Using Media to Inspire All Ages: Lia Neal to Dara Torres

lia neal simone manuelAug. 12, 2016 Friday Flashback as we add fresh 2016 context to this fabulous photo of two historic moments:

Simone Manuel’s gold medal win as the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in swimming, and Lia Neal’s bronze medal in the 2012 400m relay, marking her own historic career first, followed up in 2016 with a SILVER medal in the same event. These two teammates at Stanford splashed through barriers and swimming stereotypes in style.

More inspiration in 2016?

I love how China’s Fu Yuanhui has swum into the social media spotlight for her expressive, exuberant personality, shattering media narratives about icy demeanor coming from ‘controlled, communist countries’ brava! Also thrilled to report how fast social media upstanders took out the trolls body shaming Mexico gymnast Alexa Moreno which is a HUGE sign of progress!

There are so many references to Michael Phelps’ “age” at 31 taking four-time gold and racking up medals galore plus tongues are wagging about both his psychological brain prowess and physical feats with laser-focused intent, so that ought to reframe the age issue nicely for the future too. (Can’t resist sharing this hilarious satire showing “If Phelps where female” lambasting media coverage)

Soooo, in sum, despite the uneven (okay, downright cruddy) prioritization and media coverage of NBC’s commentary, there is clearly reason to CELEBRATE incremental change in 2016.

Citius. Altius. Fortius.

Swifter, higher, stronger…Now media coverage needs that credo.

(Photo credit: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

Original Post July 7, 2008 The Olympics have been the siren call for many a teen athlete, whether it’s fantasy role play to make workouts more fun (I used to do this on swim team) or serious training to snag a slot in the time trials, like Lia Neal accomplished at age 12. (she’s now 13, pictured at left) July 1, 2012 addendum: Just watched Lia Neal qualify at age 17 now at the Olympic Trials and can’t wait to cheer on 45 year old Dara Torres!

Now more than ever, media’s personal touchpoints can turn aspiration to inspiration, as youth ‘get to know’ their role models and even ‘workout with them.’

Examples? New world record-holder Natalie Coughlin demos fitness routines on YouTube, shows us how icircuit promos and endorsement deals work, (photo shoot video here for H20 Audio) and joins other athlete/models behind the scenes at the launch of Speedo Fastskin LZR Racer, the ‘skins’ the athletes are wearing to achieve faster performance. Today’s ‘up close and personal’ media formats build intimacy, reveal personality, and often become ‘a stories’ in themselves…

When Lia Neal qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials breaking her age group’s record, the media flurry began with comparisons to former young Olympians like Cynthia Woodhouse and her own swim star idol Natalie Coughlin. (and Tiger Woods due to her skin tone/biracial ‘prodigy’ status) But here’s where the direct media bond hit me profoundly…

…This Asphalt Green video clip of Lia that she’s far from a slick talking ‘media meister’ or celeb-wannabe, she’s a genuine KID. Pure and simple…and I absolutely LOVE that, as other kids can relate to it too. In fact, my favorite line of her NYT interview? “Neal oozes the obliviousness of youth. When asked about her races, she kept looking sheepishly at Brown because she could not remember her exact times.”

Yay, Lia! Don’t let ‘em turn this into a job!

Your joy is your own, take it. Live it. Reflect it. Have FUN with it. You’re inspiring just as you are!

At the other end of the age compression gamut, 41-year old Dara Torres, mom of now two-year old Tessa, (shown left@3mos) made USA record-breaking history in the 50m freestyle last night, to be the oldest Olympic competitor ever embarking on her 5th Olympic team! This completely swept me up in a tidal wave of ‘can do’ energy and drive. Mama mia! (interview in Women’s Health here)

She not only made her comeback au naturale with nonstop hardwork after the birth of Tessa, she made her POINT to media naysayers by submitting herself to countless drug tests to PROVE her body and image is REAL and squelch any media second-guessing.

Brava, Dara, talk about first-strike media management!

Always bugs me when innocents get caught up in the cultural zeitgeist, whether it’s an Olympic boycott to deflate an athlete’s dream, false allegations that tarnish media reputation, or controversy over gear that can deplete a win.

This USA Today article reports Torres is undergoing voluntary urinalysis and blood testing in a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency pilot program, having been tested 12 to 15 times just since March; “more than Bonds and Clemens likely had in their entire careers combined.”

I admire Dara Torres’ forthright style and public willingness to literally ‘put herself out there’ and show us how it’s done.

She’s obviously well-versed in front of the camera, as a former model and now ABC News “Person of the Week,” so if anyone can set the record straight, and become the poster athlete for anti-drug performance and pride, it’s Dara Torres!

She’s absolutely awesome…peruse the BuzzFeed of Dara news if you need a jolt of inspiration, moms out there!

Mind you, like Michael Phelps, I find Dara to be daringly brave to subject herself to such invasive poking and prodding on behalf of certainty since it seeds the media as a reminder there was ever a question, regardless of the emptiness of the allegation. Reason I say that?

This recent NYT brain-based neuroscience op-ed called, “Your Brain Lies to You” is about information processing and human error; even if something is a lie, if it’s told enough it eventually gets processed in the psyche as a truth! (dangerously slanderous when it comes to politics, perception, and media distortion!)

Your brain at work serves as a reminder for keen critical thinking skills to be kept razor-edge sharp, in ‘think before you forward’ mode of viral or negative tripe of ANY kind…Goes for rumors about friends, urban myths, public personas, any unsubstantiated claim that could harm.

My guess is Dara and Michael are hoping the lens of the media microscope will clear out any blur once and for all with a new flood of positive media drowning out the waters they were both forced to tred prior.

Both teen Lia Neal (at left) and ‘mom’ Dara Torres are incredible role models of perseverance; can’t wait to forward this piece to our ‘sister channel’ at Girls are Champions (GACtv) to get the girls’ take on all of this, and interview some of them about other Beijing bound time trial hopefuls that might be off my radar.

Meanwhile, here’s a quick news video of Natalie Coughlin’s advice for teen swimmers, as two teen girls from North Carolina ask her about life balance, missed opportunities in high school, and whether to pick a college based on their swim team. (note product placement in the lower right corner of the video, ahem)

With a month left until opening ceremonies in Beijing (August 8th through August 24th) tuning into Olympic hopefuls brings back memories of media uniting my own family no matter where we lived at the time…

Talk about coming of age with the Olympics. I remember having a wicked crush on 7-medal man Mark Spitz, having body image self-consciousness of being called ‘Muscle Jussel’ as a preteen on the local team, and giving up competition when it made my blonde hair turn “slime green.”

We’ve come a long way since then, and though formative years can thwart one’s personal best, I can honestly say my calling was more leadership than sports as a teen, so I have no regrets with that path to leave the lap lanes behind…

Still, media has the ability to inspire and uplift in ‘thrill of victory, agony of defeat mode’…and my daughter and I are talking about ‘working out’ together in the pool this summer to condition for her wakeboarding so this could be fun bonding time.

I’ll leave you with this video called The Women’s Power created by 19-year old ‘LoreLag’ of Spain, sharing her favorite sportswomen. Being that it’s received almost 60,000 hits already, I’d say she’s not alone in finding Olympic inspiration…;-)

What’s yours? Who inspires YOU?

Will you be watching the Olympics in August?

Do you feel teams and service groups are vital for kids’ sense of belonging? How do various media forms impact your view of yourself and others? Can’t wait to hear!

By the way, that’s Natalie Coughlin at left, who already has quite a stable of photos on Sports Wired and modeling gigs galore, all respectful, so far so good…Though that’s another story we’ll be tracking separately on media coverage and ‘sexy sensationalism.’

it makes me think of the post-Title IX representation of female athletes in this documentary from Media Education Foundation called, “Playing Unfair” about gender depiction focusing on femininity and sexuality, or ‘mom depiction’ in photo ops.

Gosh…did I just do that with Dara Torres by showing her in a ‘mom’ capacity above?

Sure didn’t mean to, as I DO think that’s a huge part of the story…as opposed to a gratuitous ‘I have muscles, but look I have a child on my lap’ photo op. Moms like me are incredibly inspired by Dara’s mama role and age…Proud little Tessa at two wearing her ‘Go for the Gold’ tee last night at the time trials hopefully will agree, as she beamed with her huge smiles watching her mama rejoice…

Related Resources

Swim (Beta)

Why Should Children Swim? (USA Solid pragmatics and perspective on empathy, overcoming obstacles, unselfishness, initiative, and other ‘non-lapsed-time’ reasons to swim

Shaping Youth: Girls Sports Boosts Preteen Body Image & Self-Worth

Shaping Youth: Positive Coaching Alliance Offers Media Tips & Life Lessons

Shaping Youth: Media Tips from Dads & Daughters About Sports Engagement

Frank Sports Marketing & Advertising, Media Literacy Lessons

Media Education Foundation Videos

MEF/Playing Unfair: The Media Image of the Female Athlete

Women’s Sports (national divisions and world site)

Visual Credits:

Lia Neal: NYTimes/Ruth Fremson; Natalie Coughlin: AP Photo/Nati Harnick; Mark Spitz: Gold Medal; Dara Torres: USAToday Photo w/Tessa by Eliot J. Schechter, AP Photo of win by Mark J. Terrill



  1. This is – hands down – one of the most creative uses I have seen when it comes to inspiring the youth using new technology. I never would have thought of anything like it.


  2. Natalie Coughlin is blogging about her Olympics experience on

    Natalie Coughlin’s Blog

  3. Thanks, Alex, the Olympics are an inspirational ‘given’ to me; I think our challenge is to approach the stories in new heartfelt ways (like KG above says, w/’up close & personal’ blog accounts and such…Twitter vision in real time tracking…communities like Swim Room…all bringing the mindshare into mindshifts to have youth thrill and ‘own’ the experiences of these athletes in ‘wannabe’ style…

    btw, your “Make Something Happen” is an AWESOME blog, appreciate you introducing yourself, as I’ve already perused it and forwarded it to a bunch of Facebook pals that would mutually benefit!

    Adding it to my Google reader right now! I’m sure I’ll be blogging about all this often, since the countdown is in TWO weeks, woohoo! 🙂

  4. A great story on a great site. Thanks for mentioning the Fastskin LZR Racer (

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