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“There is so much power in being a female athlete”: Trailblazing Swimmer Candace Cooper ’08 Reflects on Resilience and Determination

What’s it like to be a pioneer in athletics? Ravenscroft’s Candace Cooper ’08 is no stranger to paving the way for others. As the first black female swimmer at UNC-Chapel Hill, Cooper recently shared her story with WRAL and reflected on her role as a trailblazer and leader.

Today, Cooper hosts and produces the “Out of My League” podcast on ESPN’s 99.9 The Fan and guest hosts “The Sports Shop” for Buzz Sports Radio on 99.3 FM. She also works at Ravenscroft part-time as an extended-day teacher for third and fourth grades. We followed up with Cooper to learn more about her many accomplishments.

“I am most proud of my ability to find a career that allows me to stay close to what I love — sports,” she said. “There is so much power being a female athlete. It teaches you a special kind of resilience and determination.”

Cooper also teaches swim lessons and has plans to develop a program dedicated to helping beginners learn to swim, whether they are learning for fun or hoping to compete one day.

“I am proud of the skills I learned in swimming because it developed the character I use in my career and my everyday life,” she said.

Cooper got her start as a competitive swimmer at Ravenscroft, but she emphasized that the educational foundation she got here has also been critical to her success today. “Something as simple as writing papers, learning to speak with others in a business setting and resume writing were all important skills I learned at Ravenscroft,” she said.

Robbin King, Lower School administrative assistant, and Kat Belk, Cooper’s advisor in the Upper School, are two people who Cooper said had a profound impact on her during her years at Ravenscroft. Mrs. King, mother of Cooper’s best friend, Raven King ’08, was like a “second mom,” and their close bond gave her a stronger sense of belonging at Ravenscroft. Belk, she said, “was always there to listen.”

“Being different in high school is never easy, and Mrs. Belk made me feel cool to be a smart student-athlete,” Cooper explained. “While Ravenscroft has greatly improved in its diversity efforts, I didn’t have many fellow students who looked like me when I went to school here. So, when I went to Carolina to swim, it wasn’t shocking that I was the only black female swimmer. I think what was important then — and especially now — is making sure my experience is one of the last of the ‘firsts.’”

When asked what she enjoys most about being back on campus at Ravenscroft, she said, “I love being with kids. I love the personalities of third- and fourth-graders. My kids are developing their personalities and really coming into their own.”