Lawrence Sapp: Making History One Stroke At A Time

Lawrence Sapp

Lawrence Sapp: Making History One Stroke At A Time

By Sadie Jones, Swimming World Intern

Lawrence Sapp is a lifelong swimmer who grew up in Waldorf, Maryland with his mother, father, and two siblings. He competed for coach Jeff King at Nation’s Capital Swim Club’s Alexandria location for many years and is now studying at the University of Cincinnati, where he is a member of the men’s club swim team. This past summer, he competed at the Paralympic Games in Toyko, where he ended up placing fifth in the 100 butterfly in the S14 classification. Lawrence also became the first Black male with Autism and an Intellectual Impairment to compete on behalf of the United States in Paralympic swimming. 

When asked what it meant to him to hold this title, Lawrence answered: “It makes me happy. A lot of people tell me that they are proud of me and for me to keep going.” 

Lawrence Sapp - Paralympic Games

Photo Courtesy: Dee Sapp

Sapp is making strides in the swimming world by breaking down barriers and overcoming adversity. There are apparent disadvantages for black athletes in the sport of swimming that white swimmers do not have to think about or deal with. Lawrence’s mother, Dee Sapp, articulates that some of these challenges include inequitable recruiting of black swimmers at the college level, lack of representation, and inadequate products for his hair type.

“Being the minority in any situation has its discomforts,” Dee sapp said. “Maintaining your identity in a space filled with other influences presents a challenge.

Mrs. Sapp wishes for black swimmers to have more say in what they want to see and gives brands the advice to be more inclusive and encourages them to bring that energy into the sport of swimming as well. 

While the lack of representation of black swimmers does not go unnoticed, Reece Whitely is an African American swimmer who Lawrence looks up to. Whitley is a star at Cal-Berkeley and will chase NCAA titles next month in Atlanta. Lawrence and Reece swam at a meet together in 2016, just a few months before Reece went on to compete at Olympic Trials in Omaha.

“I saw him on TV at the Olympic Trials that year and I was so happy for him.”, said Lawrence. 

It is vital that Lawrence has this type of representation as he chases his goals, some of which include: Swimming on a Division I college team and competing in the next two Paralympic Games: Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028. Recently. Lawrence received recognition from Speedo, as the company welcomed him to the team as a USA Speedo Brand Ambassador, where he will continue to make a difference and increase representation. 

When asked what the swimming community can do as a whole to celebrate black culture more significantly, Lawrence answered: “Make us feel like you want us on your team.” 

In the same regard, his mother stated: “ As a whole, the swimming community can be more accepting and understanding of their black teammates. Integrating into a predominantly Caucasian sport can be challenging, and at the very least, recognizing that challenges do exist is a great first step. Once you’ve identified perceived challenges, mandating diversity and inclusion training for coaches and officials should closely follow. Teammates should also take part in some level of diversity, inclusion, and sensitivity training.” 

Lawrence’s drive to achieve all of his goals while facing adversity is inspiring to swimmers all over the world. Having his mother at his side to advocate for him, the Black community in swimming, and the Paralympic community is also huge. There is no doubt that with his amazing work ethic and support system Lawarence Sapp is only at the beginning of his journey. 

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