Inglewood native Jamal Hill, who suffers from a muscle disorder, is motivating others to be their best while he trains for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics Games.
Swim Up Hill - A short doc on US Paralympic Swimmer, Jamal Hill from John Duarte on Vimeo.
By Jason Lewis
Swimmer Jamal Hill has big dreams, and that is going to lead him to Tokyo to compete on the world stage in the 2020 Paralympic Games.
On first sight, Hill appears to be a very well-built elite athlete. He’s just as muscular and sleek as any other swimmer. But he suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which is an inherited disorder that causes nerve damage, mostly in the arms and legs. This results in smaller, weaker muscles; loss of sensation and muscle contractions, and difficulty walking.
“It runs in my family,” Hill said. “It affects my mom a little bit. It affects my uncles pretty heavily. Essentially my motor neurons in my outer extremities, from my elbow to my fingertips and from my kneecaps all the way to my toes gives me a lot of problems.”
This disorder used to mentally and emotionally bother Hill.
“People see me and they're like, ‘wow you look so strong, I can't even imagine that there's something wrong with you,’” he said. “For a long time it was a point of shame for me. I never talked about it. I knew that I didn't want to be handicapped by it, but I also did a lot of emotional and mental handicapping on myself. I felt cursed.”
Earlier this year, Hill decided to start talking about it with other people who are affected by the disorder, and it has greatly encouraged him to stay positive. And in turn, he has also helped others who have the disorder to follow their dreams.
“One in 2,000 people have Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease,” he said. “There's tons of people around the world that I've been able to converse with, that I've been able to relate with, and that I've been able to give hope to. I've been able to tell people that I know that this is how it is and we all wish that we could change it but it doesn't have to stop us. We have to change here and we have to adapt there, but you’re no less human, you’re no less of a person, you’re no less deserving, and you’re definitely no less capable.”
Hill has adapted to the disorder by learning to recruit other muscles to propel himself through the water at a high rate of speed.
“I don't like to call it a handicap,” he said. “I call it concentrated energy. Like a superhero, like Daredevil. He lost his eyesight but then he had super senses.”
Hill has grown up in the swimming pool. His mother did not learn how to swim as a child, so when he was young, she signed them up for mommy and me swimming classes. He grew up near Crenshaw Boulevard and Imperial Highway in Inglewood, and he frequently swam at the Westchester YMCA and the Lou Dantzler Boys and Girls Club in South Los Angeles. He competed on the swim team at Serra High School in Gardena, which earned him a scholarship to Hiram College in Ohio.
While in Ohio, Hill studied physics, in which several of his family members work. He has uncles who are members of the Los Angeles Council of Black Professional Engineers, and he attended their Excell program at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
After competing in college for two years, Hill decided that he wanted to be trained by the best swim coaches in the nation. He landed on USC’s Trojan Elite team, which is a post-graduate, professional swim team.
“I'm swimming with Olympians, former Olympians, some of the fastest swimmers in the world,” he said. “I’m picking up lots of knowledge and I'm learning.”
Currently Hill is being trained by Wilma Wong, who coaches nationally ranked swimmers at the Boys & Girls club in Pasadena. Under Wong’s guidance, Hill is the top ranked Paralympian in the nation in the 50-meter freestyle and No. 13 in the world.
Besides the goal of competing in the Paralympics, Hill is also an inspirational speaker and he has the goal of teaching one million people how to swim. He plans to personally teach as many people as possible, and also influences the masses to take swimming lessons. He started a marketing company called Swim Up Hill to help people find classes, and help swimming programs promote their lessons to the public.
Hill has turned his disorder from a negative into a positive to help people with their own issues.
“The things that we think are holding us back, that are these curses on us, that we just wish weren't there. The things that we wish we could wish away are there for a reason,” he said. “We need to wish that we knew how to use them.”
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