When world-champion swimmer Sabir Muhammad set out to write an autobiographical account of his fear-turned-fascination with water titled Born to Swim, he had one thought in mind: to help kids. “I want to share my passion for swimming with parents and kids and describe the benefits every person realizes when they learn to swim,” he says. After nearly drowning as a kid, Muhammad went on to set records in the sport and today continues to share his passion for swimming.
How long have you lived in Atlanta?
I am originally from Atlanta. I went to elementary and high school here and my mom was born in College Park.
How did you recover from your near-drowning experience as a child and motivate yourself to get back in the water?
I was forced. When my parents saw I had a fascination with the water and a willingness to jump into a river without knowing how to swim, they immediately put me in lessons because they knew it was likely I would try something very risky again.
How did you get into competitive swimming? And how long have you been doing it?
After learning to swim, my mom started working at a pool in an area of town known as Perry Homes. I would go to the pool after school and eventually I started swimming on a developmental swim league. I’ve been competing for nearly 27 years.
How did the idea for writing a book for children first come about?
I had a number of friends and family suggest I write a book. I once wrote for magazines and enjoyed it so I decided to write my story.
Did you encounter any difficulties when writing this book?
Writing this book has been one of the easiest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Publishing and marketing it myself is an entirely different story.
Where do (did) you train?
I started out training in City of Atlanta Pools, specifically MLK Natatorium on Boulevard. Now I do most my training at Emory University.
You were the first African-American to compete on the varsity men’s swim team for Stanford University back in 1994 – how did you feel about that and did you feel you were making
Stanford is an elite swimming program in every sense of the word. Back then my focus was mainly on our collective team goal of winning the NCAA Div. I championships. As for making history, I always thought my place in history was as the first of many to come after me, at Stanford and other top college programs.
How did you feel the day you first competed in swimming?
The first time I competed I stopped in the middle of the race because I thought the race was too long. I was seven years old.
What do you love about swimming?
The water. It’s a giving sport. It provided me with my first job, lifeguard, a full scholarship to Stanford and a career as a professional swimmer and swim instructor.
Tell us more about Swim for Life! and why you launched this initiative?
I am deeply aware of the benefits swimming can provide to youth from different backgrounds and wanted to do my best to share the sport and my experiences with youth. Unfortunately, minority children and boys drown at disproportionate rates, it’s my goal to stop this trend. We also started a swim clinic at Grant Park pool for kids in 2009.
What inspires you?
Children who push themselves to improve, especially those with limited economic resources, inspire me. The spirit of those who dig deep to overcome obstacles in their lives is incredibly inspirational.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
I was told once that talent can only take you so far, achieving great things takes hard work and some luck.
How do you help encourage first-time swimmers?
I tell first-timers how easy it is and to relax, “You’ll be surprised how easily it comes to you.”