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In her first Olympics, Hapa swimmer Erica Sullivan won the silver medal in the 1,500-meter freestyle Wednesday, finishing behind her American teammate Katie Ledecky.
Sullivan finished the race with a time of 15 minutes 41.41 seconds, four seconds off of Ledecky’s time, KXAN reports. The 1,500-meter freestyle was the first and last race of her Tokyo Olympics.
The 20-year-old swimmer is half Japanese. Her mother, Maco, was born in Ofuna, about 30 miles from Tokyo, according to The New York Times. Sullivan, who is fluent in Japanese, frequently visited her mother’s family in Japan.
Despite being fluent in Japanese, Sullivan told Swimming World Magazine that she “suppressed the Asian side” of herself for years.
“It wasn’t until I got out of high school and I really started to crave my Asian heritage and culture, and I really honed into it,” she told the magazine. “Luckily I found a community through anime watchers, and I found my own little network that I grew to love.”
In 2017, Sullivan came out as gay. She told the Social Kick in a 2021 interview that
“A lot of people don’t originally know [that she is Asian-American] because I look very white,” she said in the podcast interview. “But I know a lot of people who find me through the queer community first and then they’re like ‘Oh, she’s Asian-American, too.’ So it becomes like an umbrella representing with the queer community and the Asian-American community, it’s like a little double combo.”
Sullivan’s father, John Sullivan, was also a swimmer. In 2017, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and passed away three months after his diagnosis.
“I’m proud of the mental health barriers that I got through, with my dad dying in 2017 and really hitting a rock bottom in 2018 from the stress of losing a parent at age 16 and having to get over the anxiety, the panic attacks, the depression, the PTSD, all that,” Sullivan said at the Olympic trials last month in Omaha, according to The New York Times.
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