- By Jason Dougas Lewis
- In Student Athlete of the Week
Raleah Cole has only been swimming for a year and a half, but she is already head and shoulders above her competition. Photo by Jason Lewis
Article originally published by Our Weekly. www.ourweekly.com
By Jason Lewis
About a year and a half ago, Raleah Cole was looking for a sport that she would enjoy. She is tall, standing at 5'9", she is lean, and she is athletic, which would naturally lead her to track or basketball. But she just did enjoy playing those sports.
A coach spotted her near a pool, and figured that with her long frame that she would be perfect for swimming. A year and a half later, at the age of 13, she is one of the fastest 50-meter freestylers in the nation for her age group, swimming for the Royal Swim Team in Culver City. After starting out at the bronze level, which is for beginners, she skipped bronze-2, swam at pre silver for a short period of time, before being elevated right past gold to pre-sectional gold. A jump like that in a short period of time is pretty rare, as she has friends who took several years to make it to the level that she is at.
Swimming was not on Cole's radar before that day when she was spotted by the swimming coach, and she did not expect to make that type of jump so quickly.
"I'm doing better than I ever thought I would," Cole said. "I feel really accomplished. I always knew that I wanted to do a sport, but I never knew that it was going to be swim. I feel really proud of myself."
Cole is a sprinter, as her length and strength allows her to move through the water at a fast pace. Her coach is training her to compete in distances up to 500 meters, which she will need more endurance for. She has come a long way from a year and a half ago, and it was not easy from the beginning.
"Swimming took a lot of getting used to," Cole said. "It was really hard. The workouts had a lot of sets, a lot of kicking, a lot of balancing. It was really hard."
A typical workout will start off with 20 50-meter sprints, and then move on to a kick set of 200 meters, which includes the butterfly, backstroke, breast stroke and freestyle. That is just the warm up. Once the workout begins, Cole's coach could have the team perform 10 100-meter sprints, or three 500-meter sprints. Then the athletes will perform a cool down of 400 meters, and then rev it right back up with another set of sprints, which could be eight 75-meter swims. Another cool down is after that.
When Cole tells her friends what practice is like, they are shocked to hear her workload, and she does this six days a week. All of that hard work may pay off with a trip to the Olympics one day, and she does not want that to be in the distant future, as "2016" is her favorite number. That is when the next Summer Olympics will be held.
Cole is certainly a high achiever, but not just in sports. She is an honor roll student at Culver City Middle School, where social studies is her favorite subject. The most intriguing time period to her is the American Revolutionary War. She likes to learn about the battles, what was gained and lost, about George Washington and John Adams.
"I like learning about history," Cole said. "I like to learn about world history, and how things came to be what they are now. I just love stuff like that."
Cole has created a schedule that works for her. After school she goes to the library to do her homework and study, then she heads to swim practice. After she dresses, she has some time before practice begins, so she uses that time to study. And then she will study some more before she goes to bed.
Cole's goal is to attend USC or Stanford, and continue swimming on the college level. She wants to become a FBI investigator after her swimming career is over.
"I'm always watching Criminal Minds," Cole said. "I think it's so cool how they travel around the world to find different criminals."
Cole's parents have been an inspiration to her, as her father, Robert Cole, graduated from Morehouse College and her mother, Dr. Karen Cole, graduated from Stanford University. Her father envisioned her excelling at sports when she was a young child, but he did not know which one.
"It (swimming) was discovered by accident, and I'm really surprised that she is at the level that she's at right now," Robert Cole said. "Swimming is one of the most strenuous sports, and she works hard, and she has really gravitated to the sport."
Robert Cole was really surprised to see his daughter win her very first race, and he cheers her on as she wins a lot of her races by two to three body lengths. As an African American politician, he is well aware that she is one of the few Black athletes at most of the swimming competitions.
"I'm proud that she's doing something that will help her uniquely stand out as an African American girl," Robert Cole said. "She's one of the very few (African Americans) who is out there, and she's very good."
As excited as Cole's parents are about her new found athletic abilities, they have made sure that she balances her sport with her academics.
"She's really focused," Robert Cole said. "She understands that anybody can be good at swimming, or basketball, or football, but only a few excel at a school like Stanford or USC. She understands that as much time and energy that she puts in for swimming, she has to also do for school."
Cole has a bright future in front of her, and she is an asset to the African American community.