Thirty-six-year-old Sabir Muhammad of Southwest Atlanta was the first black professional swimmer to set an American record. While swimming for the Atlanta Dolphins swim team, Muhammad broke records in the U.S. short-course 50- and 100-meter freestyle events. Muhammad was an inner-city kid who practiced at the Adamsville pool under the direction of swim coach Tommy Jackson.
He has since opened his own swim school.
Amazingly, Muhammad almost didn’t make it past his third birthday. At a family picnic, he ran into a river and jumped in. His father, who learned how to swim, saved him. No one else at the picnic knew what to do. When he was seven years old, Muhammad’s mother worked as a janitor at the local gym with a swimming pool. One day, curiosity got the best of him, and young Sabir got into the pool. Through practice and perseverance, Sabir was offered a swim scholarship to Stanford University.
During America’s racist Jim Crow past, misleading studies concluded that African Americans were not as buoyant as whites, which was only an excuse to deny access to public pools. Fear and other myths about blacks and swimming ensued, leaving a harsh statistic: less than 70% of black children do not know how to swim.
At the Adamsville Natatorium, a predominately black swim school, some of the children drive an hour to obtain training from Tommy Jackson and to be with other black children in the pool, hoping to give them more confidence.