Swimmer Jamal Hill says he was standing on top of the podium, having just qualified for his first Paralympics, when he realized he wanted to do more.
He wanted to have an impact on his community.
Hill hopes to teach a million people a year to swim between now and when the games come to his hometown here in Los Angeles in 2028.
“I feel at home. I feel a sense of my body,” he said.
U.S. & World
When he's in the water, Jamal Hill is in control.
“Mental is definitely the majority of it,” he said.
That means the pro-swimmer must be 100% focused, because of the physical things he can't control.
“Being an athlete with neuropathy representing the Paralympics, that always poses its own set of challenges,” he adds.
The Paralympian was just 10 years old when he was diagnosed with a hereditary condition known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth or CMT, which causes nerve damage, muscle weakness, and a loss of sensation.
Hill says it feels like he's standing on his knees.
“I can't really move my arms, my legs don't carry me the same way they used to.”
For Hill, it was his parents who helped him move forward.
“They instilled in me the values and the courage -- really to not limit myself.”
It wasn't long before Hill fell in love with the pool.
“There's that whole body sensation, like I'm encapsulated in something. I can feel all of my limbs. It's a space where if you can swim, you can fly in the water,” he said.
And fly he does, becoming one of the best swimmers in the world, and qualifying for this year's Paralympic games in Tokyo.
“There's a level of surreal-ness to it,” he says.
Hill credits perseverance and hard work to his hometown in Inglewood.
Captured in a Speedo on a billboard along the 405 Freeway, not far from where he grew up, a giant image of this Black swimmer with a disability, declaring he is not afraid to "make waves."
“Being an anomaly of sorts in this space on so many different aspects and levels is really what drives me and inspires me,” Hill said.
It inspired him to start Swim Up Hill.
“Obviously, I'd love to see more Black professional swimmers, brown professional swimmers, Paralympians, you name it,” he said.
His foundation connects underserved communities to swim education.
“Teaching people how to swim is really just step one. What we're really working to do is teach them how to swim in life. How to be able to survive the ebbs and the flows of the currents of this world."
Hill hopes to use swimming to lift others.
His goals go beyond Tokyo and beyond himself.
“That is definitely the grand goal, is to win a gold medal, just like a part of my grand goal is to be teaching a million people how to swim every year.”
When asked when he’s no longer doing pro swimming, who is he going to be?
“The same Jamal Hill he is now. Jamal hill is more than a swimmer already, and I think that's why I enjoy swimming so much... that's not what defines me.”