Making a Splash with Olympians

Before anything else, you have to understand I have long standing relationship with the swimming community. I was introduced to the pool at the age of 10, and since then, I’ve never looked back. I swam my way through middle school, high school, and even college. After those last 4 years, I was done; however, swimming has an addictive quality. After spending about 13 years in the sport, it was impossible to just drop it cold turkey. One thing led to another and I ended up coaching with my club team.


Flash forward to this past Wednesday.


Head Coach {Lim}: “You remember Blake? You know he’s going to be in Atlanta on Friday?”

Me: “Wait…really? Why??”

Lim: “Make a Splash. I got invited to go, but I won’t be able to make it. You didn’t get the email?”

I read the email that I had previously deleted. No big deal Larissa, you just almost missed a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet all these famous people.


Flash forward to this past Friday.


My sister and I headed down to Atlanta around 4:30pm. It takes about 30 minutes to get to Atlanta from our house, so we were not too worried about time. That quickly disappeared after about 5 miles on I-75. Bumper to bumper traffic across all 6 lanes. It was horrendous. Anyways, about an hour later, we arrive in downtown Atlanta and with minimal difficulty we find the Civil Rights and Humanity building. We walked into the room and there was a small raised stage at the front, with six empty chairs. I guess they realized traffic was bad, and were giving people a chance to arrive before commencing. After about 10-15 minutes of waiting, the stage began to fill: Cullen Jones, Blake Michael, Roberta Shields, Rowdy Gaines, Maritza Maritza Correia McClendon , and another lady took their seats. The unknown lady turned out to be the Debbie Hess, the executive director for USA Swimming Foundation.

The first thing they did was inform us about Make a Splash. It is a tour which concentrates on educating individuals about water safety. Every year they promote national awareness to spread the lifesaving message of learn-to-swim. They host a panel discussion, consisting of special guests that each have something to contribute to the importance of water safety. These guests share their own experiences and express why they believe knowledge about water and swimming is important for every individual.

The members of the panel each provided a special element to this tour. I had already met two of them: Cullen Jones and Blake Michael. Cullen Jones is an Olympic gold medalist {in swimming, obviously} and he’s also the first African American to hold a world record {again, in swimming}. I have met him on several different occasions, all at swim meets. Now Blake Michael is a different story. I met Blake before he became famous {part of me and my sister wanting to go including wanting to know if he remembered us}. We swam on the same club team and had some pretty good times! Anybody in the swimming world will recognize the name Rowdy Gaines. He is the go to guy for announcing big and fast swim meets, such as the Olympics! Being deemed the “Fastest Man in the Water” throughout the 1980s, it’s no surprise that he is an Olympic gold medalist as well. IMG_6354

Me & Rowdy Gaines with his gold medal from the 1984 Olympic Games


Maritza Correia McClendon is the first African American female to secure her spot on the U.S. Olympic team and swam her way to a silver medal. Lastly, Roberta Shields is the executive director of the Ludacris Foundation, and also the mother of Ludacris (musician and actor—hellooo Fast & Furious Series!!)

After the Q & A session, there was a small reception that followed in the grand space upstairs. Here we were able to mingle with the other guests, as well as the six individuals who were up on stage earlier.

Again, I feel it is important to remember my swimming background. So just take a minute to remember how immersed in the swimming world I am…..ready? Okay. So now you realize just how big of a deal it is that I am mingling in a room that boasts 3 Olympic swimmers! My goal was to take a picture with everyone that was on the panel. I managed to do that, except for with Mrs. Shields. My sister and I ended getting into an engaging conversation with Maritza. We talked her Olympic experience; her swimming career; and just life in general. By the end of the conversation, I felt like we were best friends. We even added each other on snapchat!IMG_6350 (1)

Maritza & me with her 3 medals! Can you tell I’m in awe by my facial expression?



We, of course, had a chance to talk to Blake as well. When he realized who we were, his reaction was priceless. It was so great to see that he remembered us. We reminisced on the good ol’ days, then he proceeded to tell us what he was up to. Although he is most known for his roles on Disney in Lemonade Mouth and Dog with a Blog, he also dabbles in directing, production, and Lifetime movies.IMG_6347

Me & Blake


This opportunity was one of a lifetime that I am so blessed to have experienced. No matter how cool it is that I was able to meet all these phenomenal celebrities, the message to be taken away from all of this is learn how to swim! May is National Drowning Prevention Month, so get out there and spread the word. Did you know that drowning is the second leading cause of death for children under 14? Let’s change this statistic. Need lessons? Go to to find a place near you!  Who knows? You might become the next Olympic swimmer!


Maritza, me, & Cullen

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