“If I can inspire one little black girl or one little black boy, anybody, to get into the water and give it a try, I’ve done myself proud, genuinely. That is the aim in it all.” – Alice Dearing
Alice Dearing has spoken about her desire to change perceptions and challenge stereotypes and inspire others to get into the water.
In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC, Dearing also talks about being the only black swimmer on Team GB and her hopes for Tokyo 2020 should she qualify.
The 2016 world junior open water champion has spoken previously about being subject to racist abuse by a coach who called her “a skinny n-word” when she was 17.
Five years on, she recalls:
“It wasn’t a great experience, I was only 17. It wasn’t said directly to me, it was said to another swimmer and this is a coach that I’ve never spoken to before. I don’t know anything about them, I can’t even remember their name to be honest.
“I have a lot of people around me who helped me and helped me understand what was said because I didn’t really process it in the way that I maybe should have. I kind of just tried to laugh it off, I was just going to let it go. I told my coach about it as soon as I heard and he was like ‘we need to do something about it, it’s not okay that you’re being spoken about like that’.”
Dearing made her senior Great Britain debut at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia, and she has competed at both subsequent editions with fifth as part of the mixed 5km team relay in Budapest, Hungary, in 2017 her best result to date.
The 22-year-old, who is coached by Andi Manley at Loughborough University, will compete at the opening leg of the FINA Marathon Swim World Series in Doha this weekend ahead of the Olympic qualifier in Fukuoka, Japan, in May.
She is only the second black woman to have represented Britain in the pool after Achieng Ajulu-Bushell who competed at the 2010 European Championships and for England at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi later that year before retiring in 2012.
“I have been the only black swimmer on Team GB for about five years now. It’s kind of sad because it’s 2020 and I really wish I wasn’t.
“I always kind of dealt with it, I was like, ‘it’s just how things are, it’s just the circumstances which I’m in’.”
Dearing is passionate about using her platform to inform and inspire.
“It’s just kind of ingrained within the culture that we don’t swim, that’s not our sport, we do other things.
“That’s just been passed down and down and down. Then there’s the water phobia side of it – that’s another thing which gets passed down from parents to children. Swimming is a life skill, it should be a life skill, it can literally save your life and the fact it gets brushed aside and ignored is concerning.
“I have heard a lot of people say it to me now, like black people like, ‘I’m too heavy to swim’.
“And I’m like ‘You’re not, you’re really not. It’s a complete myth. I do want to talk about my experiences to help show people that it is possible to swim being a black person, being a black woman, having afro hair, it’s completely possible.”
Dearing missed out on qualification for Tokyo when she finished 17th at last year’s World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
May will soon be upon us and with it the Olympic qualifier in Japan when she will seek to book her ticket to compete against the likes of Sharon van Rouwendaal, Ana Marcela Cunha, Xin Xin and Haley Anderson.
For Dearing, it is not only about making the team but also encouraging others.
“This is the most motivated I’ve ever been in the sport. It’s the most I’ve ever enjoyed the sport.
“Obviously a medal would be incredible but it’s such a competitive event and if I can inspire one little black girl or one little black boy, anybody to get into the water and give it a try, I’ve done myself proud, genuinely. That is the aim in it all.”