IRVINE, Calif. — Simone Manuel can cover the length of an Olympic swimming pool in 23.97 seconds, faster than any American woman in history.
Her pets could do it in about 4,000 seconds. If the pool was empty.
Manuel, the Olympic and world champion in the 100m freestyle, came to the U.S. Championships this week following a few life changes.
She recently completed her NCAA career at Stanford, earning the Honda Cup as the top female college athlete in the country. Manuel announced Tuesday that she signed with swimwear sponsor Tyr, kicking off her professional career.
And she recently celebrated her two-month anniversary with Shaka and Zulu.
“I didn’t pick the names,” Manuel said. “My boyfriend picked the names.”
Shaka and Zulu are Manuel’s pet snails. She found them on a walk in May, picked them up and gave them a new home — a Glad container.
“I’ve learned a lot about snails and Googling why they do certain things,” she said.
Snails reach a top speed of 50 yards per hour or about a half-inch per second, according to snail-world.com. It would take them about two weeks to cover a mile without stopping.
“They’ve kind of taught me to slow things down,” Manuel said. “When they come out of their shells I watch them. I don’t know. It’s weird talking about it now.”
Manuel looked plenty fast on the opening night of nationals Wednesday, winning the 100m free in 52.54 seconds, the fastest ever time in a U.S. pool and the second-best time of her career.
Manuel booked a spot in this year’s major international meet — the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo and August — and all but assured her place on the 2019 World Championships team.
Shaka and Zulu are also eligible for a world championships. The world snail racing championships are held every July, the latest edition happening last Saturday in Great Britain. Snails race 13 inches on damp cloths marked with rings, according to Reuters.
In Rio, Manuel became the first female African-American swimmer to win an individual Olympic title. She sometimes feels reduced to a label — “the black swimmer,” she recently wrote — when she knows she is so much more.
Part of that is sharing her life on social media, especially in Instagram stories heavily populated by Shaka, Zulu and her cooking personality, “Chef Swimone.”
Another part is embedded in her Tyr contract. A first-of-its-kind inclusion rider stipulates that Manuel’s partners “extend meaningful opportunities to traditionally underrepresented groups and that diversity be reflected in the creative efforts she pursues with the brand.”
“I’m kind of quirky and nerdy,” said Manuel, a ballerina from age 2 to 12 who performed in “The Nutcracker” in the Houston area. “I don’t really like nature, so I’m not sure why I picked up the snails that day. But I kind of want people to be more involved and really interact with [my social media] and let them have a better understanding of who I am outside of the water.”
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Happy 2 months to my pet snails, Shaka and Zulu. You two have truly kept life interesting. From trying to get out of your Glad container to snacking on your favorite food (carrots… only because it’s the only food I ever feed you) to just reminding me to sit and slow down by waiting for you to come out of your shell and move your body in calming ripples and waves… you truly have taught me a lot, and your presence is extremely soothing. You’re my real slime!! 🐌