How water polo MVP Ashleigh Johnson smashed stereotypes | Game Breakers

How water polo MVP Ashleigh Johnson smashed stereotypes | Game Breakers

I’ve achieved so much
through the opportunities that water polo has given me. I think it’s important
to understand being in a space where
you’re not the majority. Your individuality
is what sets you apart. And I love it. (GAME/BREAKERS) (ASHLEIGH JOHNSON, GOLD MEDAL
WATER POLO RIO 2016) (DOB 12 SEPTEMBER 1994) My name is Ashleigh Johnson and I won my gold medal
in water polo. I feel like I didn’t
really choose water polo. I kind of just fell
into it and I loved it. (PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY) I chose Princeton because I wanted to go to a school
that put academics first. Having Chelsea on my team here
at Princeton is really fun. Just being able to share it
with my sister is a great experience for me. We got involved in swimming
and water polo because my mom wanted us to have
something to do in the summers. When we were younger, my mom
put us in a swim programme. The choice was between
swimming or water polo, so we, of course,
chose water polo. We swam every day of the week and then played water polo
after swim practice on Fridays, and we loved it. I just really like
the teamwork aspect of it and competing in a group. I think that that’s the most
fun part of the game and I just get lost in it
and I love it. When she committed
and came here, first time she got
in the water, I just couldn’t stop smiling,
like, “Oh, my God. “This girl is legit.” A kid like Ashleigh
you don’t have to teach. It’s like with Michael Jordan. She knows the play
before it even happens. When I first talked to Ashleigh
about coming onto the team, the sell wasn’t to be
an Olympian and it wasn’t to win
a gold medal – it was what a great
role model she would be. Ashleigh’s changed the sport
of water polo by showing that there is an opportunity
for people like her. She is an African-American
woman in a sport that doesn’t have a lot
of African-American women. So, she’s changing the game
on multiple levels. I took a year off to train and compete with
the Olympic team. My focus was to grow
as a player, just to open myself up
to a new experience. I think one of the bigger
challenges for her was replacing an iconic figure. She was replacing
Betsy Armstrong, who many thought was
the greatest goalkeeper of all time, someone who the world,
and certainly our team, had a tremendous amount
of respect and love for. I was very scared
going out to California and just giving up
everything that I knew, but I was willing
to shed my fears and just get to know everyone and it was
an amazing experience. I know it was challenging
for her, but wherein lies the challenge
lies an opportunity and she seized
that opportunity. She was someone that
we could not only trust to block the ball,
but she was someone that we could trust
to lead our defence. (OLYMPIC GAMES, RIO 2016) Walking in the opening
ceremonies was definitely one of my favourite moments
in the Olympics. It was such a special moment. As the first black woman
to represent the US Olympic team
in water polo, it was amazing to just
have that experience. It’s just really cool
to break through that kind of invisible barrier that you don’t even think about
until you’re there. 2016, many people would say, was the greatest water polo
team of all time. We played the game
as beautifully as I’ve ever seen the game
be played before. It was truly surreal, you know? To think that
that’s one of your kids playing at the highest level
and getting the gold medal, I was just so happy for her. I was speechless,
I was so happy. It was, like, unreal. Like, growing up, we watched
the Olympics every four years. We gather around,
we watch every game. It was crazy to be there,
and, like, have my sister being the person that
everyone at home is watching. I couldn’t even, like,
put it into words. It was kind of surreal,
but at the same time, it was amazing. Every goal they scored,
every block they made, it was, like, “Oh, my God!” – One, two, three…
– USA! And the first swim-off
of the final, it’s the Italians
in the blue caps, USA in the white. Brilliant save from
point-blank range. You’d have almost put money
on the Italians scoring a goal there,
but she’s made a stunning save. And they can’t find a way
past her. She’s having a stunning game
in goal for the USA. And they’re turning into one of
the most successful teams in, I reckon, history, you would say. You look at Johnson right now,
she’s glowing. She’s in her moment. This is
probably one of the greatest moments of performance
that she will enjoy. A gold medal performance
by the USA! Gold in Rio. USA! As I was stepping
on that podium, it was a kind of
indescribable moment. Ashleigh Johnson. Going to celebrate
our gold medal was an incredible experience. It was just amazing. (ASHLEIGH WAS NAMED THE TOP
PERCENTAGE OF 64.5%) My role on this Olympic team was a very important step
in my mission to be a role model
for young black girls and other people who
want to play this sport. She’s doing things that
the sport of water polo, specifically women’s water
polo, has never seen before. We haven’t had that many
African-Americans in our sport and the more that they can
see someone like Ashleigh do what she can do, the more that we can get
more African-Americans involved in our sport. Going to the White House
to celebrate our gold medal was an incredible experience. It was really cool
to meet President Obama. He and Michelle Obama
were so genuine and so warm. It was just amazing. This sport needs role models. And it needs them
in different communities and people that have
different backgrounds. Ashleigh saw it first-hand in
the lead-up to the Rio games. She would travel
to different countries, different states
around America, and have boys and girls
of colour come up to her and tell her, “I’m keeping an
eye on you. I’m watching you, “Number 13, cos you inspire me
and you let me know that “the road you’re taking
is one I can also travel.” And now people
in different communities, that water polo hadn’t
reached in the past, can look at someone
like Ashleigh Johnson and say, “I can do
that same exact thing.” My senior thesis is looking
at how people of colour are perceived in spaces
where diversity is a goal. I think that’s really important
as an athlete and as a person. It’s just an amazing
opportunity for me and I want to push
that opportunity to get everything that
I can out of it. Being an ambassador
for young black girls and being able to be
a role model and step up and be a representation of what black people
could be in this sport, what people of colour
could be in swimming. I want to represent
the people who look up to me. It’s just an amazing
opportunity for me and an incredible experience. USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!

About the Author: Garret Beatty


  1. "Great Challenge Ladies"
    Great Thinking Always Leads"""Keep The Good Work""""Thanks""Great History Always Leads""♥️♥️♥️ Good Health And Good Heart Always Works…. Good 2018""""👣👣👣👣👣

  2. There isn't stereotypes associated with skin color, longer reach in swimming in ball sports is what you need. For the most part people who have longer limbs where they're needed would be successful in that sport. Most black people just don't like certain things.

  3. I don't know too much about GK save percentage in water polo, but can somebody tell me if 64% that she recorded was a great record?? Thanks!

  4. Ultimately here, everyone just becomes an American. Hopefully over time the prefixes people are using of late will fade away, and American will be the only description. Get here, work hard, be a good person.

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