Tabahn Afrik’s time in the pool got off to a rocky start. Instead of enrolling him in the beginners’ class, his parents mistakenly signed him up for a USA Competitive Swim team, not knowing how it would pay off.
When Tabahn saw people racing through the pool he didn’t know what to think.
“I got in the water, and these people were flying by me,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “I had no idea what I was doing. I wondered why are they teaching me how to race? I should be learning how to swim.”
While Tabahn clung to the ropes for dear life, his dad’s unexpected response was a blessing in disguise.
“He goes: ‘Tabahn, if you don’t stop grabbing the lane line or the wall, you’re going to have to walk home.’”
His father’s pep talk spurred the 17-year-old to become one of the best swimmers in the nation, and Michigan’s Division 1 state champion. Last weekend, he broke the state record for the 50-meter freestyle, clocking in at a sizzling 20.26 seconds, and on Friday he won the 100-meters freestyle title at the National Club Swimming Association’s junior meet in Orlando, Florida.
Despite his talents, Tabahn isn’t just champ in the pool, he’s also a winner in the classroom. Tabahn is an honor student with an unweighted 3.6 GPA and is a member of his high school’s youth advisory council. This fall, he’s headed to Notre Dame on a full scholarship.
“He challenges himself both academically and athletically, so he gets the job done in the classroom as well,” his coach, Steve Bowyers said. “He’s a phenomenal young man.”
Although he’s a scholar and top-ranked athlete that hasn’t protected Tabahn against other people’s prejudices. The teen, who describes himself as a “mixed kid” because his father is from Sierra Leone and his mom is Korean, has had to deal with some people’s narrow perceptions of people of color.
“Kids can be jerks; kids are kids,” he explained. “My skin color has come into many conversations, like: ‘He’s only good because he’s black.’ Hey, we’re not even in football. There’s some comedy behind the way some people think the way they do. But it’s never been a problem to the point that it’s bogging me down or preventing me to be the best that I can.”
Along with breaking records, Tabahn dismantles stereotypes each and every time he gets into the pool.
“Some say the reason I can swim is because I have the Asian in me,” he admitted to the Detroit Free Press, explaining many still hold limited views about what African-American can and cannot do.
Still, Tabahn is unfazed.
“Black people can’t swim?” he said, spouting off the misguided notion. “OK, watch me swim. I’ll show you we can swim.”