While New York has been home to many Olympians, 17-year-old Lia Neal brought Brooklyn to prominence when she qualified for the London games earlier this month by finishing fourth in the 100-meter freestyle, which put her on the relay team.
"I'm excited," said Neal's mother Siu Neal, 59, of her daughter's pending competition in London. Soon she, her husband, Rome, and their three sons will head across the Atlantic to cheer on Lia. The opening ceremonies take place July 27.
She told Patch that while Lia rarely mentioned the idea of qualifying for the Olympics, it was clear early on that she had what it takes.
"She never talked about it, but she knew she liked swimming and that she liked to win," Neal said. "Her old coach always said she has the potential to go really far."
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Hailing from Fort Greene, the Neal family as a whole enjoys the water and frequently heads to the nearby Commodore Barry pool for fun. But it was Lia's drive that really made swimming an important part of family life, Neal said.
"When she was 6 years old, all her classmates were taking swimming lessons and she wanted to too," Neal said. "After two years, her coach recommended [she] to join [a team]."
She has been swimming for Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics on the Upper East Side ever since, undertaking a schedule of schooling and training that exhausting to simply hear about.
A typical day for Lia includes morning swim practice, going to school at Covenant of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan where she will serve as co-captain of the varsity swim team next year, completing her homework, heading back to the pool for dry land training and more swimming, Neal said.
Then, it's time to sleep and get up and do it again. "Her schedule is very tight; she doesn't have time to do anything else," she said.
But it's all worth it, Neal said, adding that it's her drive that people should note and not the color of her skin. "People are all talking about her race, but I think they should focus on her just making it," Neal said.
Siu Neal is Chinese and Rome is African-American, making Lia the second African-American female to make it on the swim team, a notable achievement but not her defining characteristic, Neal said.
"[Olympic hopefuls] have to have a desire, have to want to do it, be determined and willing to work hard, willing to sacrifice their time," Neal said. "You don't make because of race or luck."