As many Americans take time to remember those who lost their lives or were closely affected by the Sept. 11 attacks, Olympian Lia Neal is expressing bittersweet gratitude for the 9/11 scholarship that helped her family afford her dream of reaching the Olympics.
"It's a real nice notion that they turned a tragic event into something that benefits children of all ages," said Neal, according to Newsday. "I am grateful."
Neal was the recipient of a Swim for the Future Scholarship, an award created in honor of two New York City swimmers, Andrew Fisher and Doug Irgang, who died on 9/11. The award provides young people with funds that allow their families to afford the $3,805 needed to join the swim team at Manhattan’s Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics, where Neal has trained since elementary school. The scholarship has awarded more than $200,000 to 78 swimmers since it began.
Both Fisher, 42, and Irgang, 32, were Master swimmers who also trained at the Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics Center.
“It was very exciting for my family, in particular, because my brother was a competitive swimmer," Fisher's brother, John Fisher told Newsday. "I am sure the notion of a scholarship fund would have given him a lot of joy. And the fact that Lia went on to win a bronze medal is terrific."
According to Neal’s mother, the money has gone a long way in helping the family cope with the high costs of cultivating a champion.
She told Newsday the money "makes it much easier. I can go to more meets with her…I can be there with her and watch her swim."
Neal, who is of Chinese and African-American descent, is the first Black woman to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic swimming team.
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(Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)