She’s still in high school but Brooklyn’s Lia Neal can call herself an Olympic medalist. On Friday, some of Neal’s local supporters threw the teenager a pool party to remember. NY1’s Natasha Ghoneim filed the following report.
Lia Neal said she hasn't stopped smiling since she and her relay team won the bronze medal in the London Olympics.
On Friday, she returned to Asphalt Green to celebrate. It was the perfect venue. She’s trained for more than half her life at the Upper East Side facility. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and 500 campers showered her with admiration.
“I've had a few people come up to me and say I'm their role model and inspiration and it's so cute to see them looking up to me. I'm flattered,” Neal said.
“Me and Lia grew up together. Having her here and seeing her dream has been realized and that she made it is not only inspiring to the campers but to teammates like me,” said Aqua teammate En-Wei Hu-Van Wright.
At 17, she is already a trailblazer. Neal is only the second African-American to make the Olympic swim team. She said her medal belongs as much to her family as to her. Talking about their monumental support was the only thing that made her smile disappear while talking to reporters.
“They don't know how much they mean to me,” she said. “Without them, I wouldn't have anyone to push me to do the things I didn't want to do but those things that were necessary to get me where I am today.”
“I didn't think so much she was a talented swimmer. She just liked to swim and to winning meets. So I kept doing what she like,” said her mother, Siu Neal.
Lia said making it fun is what keeps her motivated. Though people have long told her she had Olympic potential, she said the confidence to know she could make it to the summer games only kicked in a month before the trials. She now has the insight of a champion and shared it with the cheering kids in the rafters.
“Give it your all. You'll hit some bumps in the road but it's the outcome that it'll make everything worth it,” Neal said.
Neal hopes to bring home more medals in 2016 by competing in an individual swimming event in addition to the relay. But at the moment, she just wants to hang out with her friends before her senior year at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan.