The pressure of being the second African-American woman to make the U.S. Olympic swim team did not stop New York City native Lia Neal from helping her team win a medal in the 2012 Olympics in London on Saturday
Seventeen year old Neal and her teammates Missy Frankly, Jessica Hardy and Allison Schmitt won the bronze medal in the 4×100 freestyle relay Saturday night.
Neal, who is an incoming senior at Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan, swam the third leg in 53.65 seconds. She qualified for the Olympics earlier this month by finishing fourth in the 100-meter freestyle, putting her on the relay team.
Neal’s life is not one of a typical teenager. Born and raised in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn to an African American father and a Chinese mother, Neal gets up 5 o’clock each morning and travels to Manhattan where she practices for two hours at the Asphalt Green pool. After school, she hits the pool again and for two more hours.
Her father, Rome Neal, said Lia wanted to be a swimmer since the age of 5. Rome Neal when his daughter was a child he used to put her on his back and float along the surface of a swimming pool in Manhattan
“She couldn’t swim at the time,” Rome Neal said. “She’d be on my back in the water and she would be trying to swim, and I couldn’t swim that well, but the water’s not that deep so I’m making her look like she’s swimming on top of my back.”
Earlier this month her mother, Siu Neal, told a New York Times reporter that her daughter “gave up a lot of the privileges other young people have. All of her time was either practicing swimming or dry land training or going to school. When she came home, she had homework to do. It seems like she always had a race against time to get everything done.”