Ashleigh Johnson played water polo at Princeton University, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country. However, she didn’t get to really use a platform to promote the sport until securing a spot on Team USA in 2016.
“Making the Olympic team was an important step in my mission to become a role model for Black girls and any other people who want to play water polo,” Johnson toldOlympic.org.
Johnson made history by becoming the first African-American woman to compete in water polo at the Olympics in the Rio Summer Games. The Miami, Florida native helped the United States win a gold medal while opening the eyes of so many people in this country.
“I definitely feel the responsibility to be a role model for other Black people and minorities because there are so few of us in this sport,” Johnson said in an interview withTime Magazine. “Just being myself, being Black, draws more attention to me.”
Johnson returned to Princeton University in the fall of 2016 with not only a gold medal, but as someone who stood out from nearly everyone else in her sport.
“It wasn’t just being different, it was being Black in a predominantly white space,” Johnson told the Los Angeles Times. “Even now I struggle with my identity, like understanding what it means to be a leader in this sport and be someone who’s kind of a trailblazer in my own way.”
Johnson became the face of water polo and an inspiration to other African-Americans who wanted to get in the pool and compete.
“Being able to be seen by other African-American women has been just a great thing for us in this sport,” Johnson toldThe Undefeated. “I’m hearing that so many people are putting their sons and daughters into swim classes and finding water polo teams.”
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