BEFORE HE HEADS TO SUMMER OLYMPIC TRIALS, THE 2-TIME OLYMPIC SWIMMER TALKS ABOUT FAMILY, DRIVE, AND BEING A REBEL IN HIS OWN SPORT OF SWIMMING.
Olympic swimming champion and world record-holder Cullen Jones is no stranger to success. e Bronx- born, New Jersey raised swimmer has raked in an extraordinary four Olympic medals (2 gold) and holds the world record (4×100-meter freestyle relay) in swimming. But for the 6’5”, fashionable Cullen, striving for more is his personal mantra. “My mom instilled in me at a young age – “if you want something in life you work for it – and once you get that goal, you reset it.” It puts me on this path of always being hungry, never complacent.” He continues, “So after the 2008 Olympics, I said to my coach, “More.” And we went to London and got three more medals – my coach looked at me said, “More?” I said “More”, and now we are training for Rio.” Cullen’s drive keeps him focused, but hardly distant.
The world-class Olympian divides his time training over 30 hours a week – and the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make A Splash Tour, which strives to teach over one million children to swim a year. “The Swimming Association approached me and put the drowning statistics in front of me and knowing that I was almost a part of that statistic, I felt like since I have a heart of service this [was] my way of giving back to a sport that has given me so much.” Jones, who nearly died from drowning when he was 6 years old, sees a critical need for water-safety education. “My parents took me to Dorney Water Park in Pennsylvania – they made me promise to hold on to the inner tube when I went on the water rides there. When I hit the pool on the biggest ride there, I jumped upside down and wasn’t strong enough to pull myself up.” He continues, “ They ended up pulling me out and giving me full resuscitation.” 70% of African-American children have little or no swimming ability. For Cullen, who is the first African- American to hold a world record in swimming, it’s vital to address water-safety as an issue.
Olympian champions don’t win gold metals with talent alone. Jones’s success in the water involves exceptional levels of focus, discipline, and training. “Every water workout is 2 hours long. I also lift weights three times a week. On my busiest day, I have two water workouts and a lift. at’s around 6 hours of working out in one day.” He continues, “I do watch what I eat, love the green stuff and speak to a nutritionist every three months. But honestly, I don’t calorie count – I and it’s depressing.” Cullen’s training ramps up going into the Rio games.
His third Olympic competition, he remains remarkably calm and relaxed for a man set to represent his county on the world stage. ‘Winning an Olympic gold medal is more than I ever could have imagined.” He continues, “My parents were a big role as to why I’m successful.” He speaks energetically about his mother and father, who passed away from lung cancer when Cullen was 16. “My dad wanted me to be a basketball player – but he never held it against me when I wanted to be a swimmer. He came to every practice – he was that Bobby Fisher dad.” Jones continues, “I remember his last words – when I got the A time to qualify for the Junior Olympics, he said, “Oh my God, he did it.” He’s still with me; I know he’s always watching.” For Man of Metropolis’ Rebels & Rising Stars Issue – Cullen’s contemplates the idea of himself as a rebel – his status as a rising star already stamped in Olympic gold. “ ere weren’t people who looked like me who were swimming,” Cullen says. “In the African- American community, basketball, track, football those are your norms – I feel like I was my own rebel because I was doing something different.” Cullen continues to sidestep expectations, setting his own standards, only to exceed and push them further.
A post-swimming career in fashion comes as no surprise – given his casual yet effortless sense of style. “I would love to be a buyer. I think I have a good sense of what people like to wear and what’s trending.” For Cullen, all options are open; it’s the determination and work that take his talent to the next level. “When it comes to the fourteen-year-old who’s thinking about what to do – I’d love for you to swim,” he pauses, “but dare to be different.”
BY CORY TALLMAN