Lia Neal was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 13, 1995. She is of African-American and Chinese-American descent — Neal’s father, Rome, is African-American and her mother, Siu, is Chinese-American. Thanks to her mother, Neal is fluent in Cantonese. Neal began swimming at the age of 6 and two years later, she joined New York City’s Asphalt Green Swim Team and was soon awarded a Swim for the Future scholarship. The Swim for the Future scholarship was started in 2001 in memory of Asphalt Green masters swimmers Doug Irgang and Andrew Fisher who tragically died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. According to Asphalt Green’s website, the scholarship has allowed the New York City-based swim team to become the most diverse team in the United States.
As the second African-American female to make a US Olympic swim team, Lia is committed to bringing more diversity to the sport. She is part of USA Swimming’s Make a Splash initiative, inspiring kids to swim via Swim Brooklyn.
As one of the most coveted high school recruits, Neal chose to make the cross-country move to swim for Stanford University. Coach Greg Meehan dedicated the success the Stanford women’s team had starting in 2014, in part, to Lia deciding to give Stanford, and himself as a coach, a chance. It didn’t take long for Lia to make her mark as a cardinal. At the 2014 NCAA’s, Neal finished 10th in the 50 free, second in the 100 free, and ninth in the 200 free individually. She gained her first NCAA Champion status as a member of the winning 400 medley relay and 400 free relay, and finished third on the 800 free relay and ninth on the 200 medley relay.
Neal excelled as an age group swimmer, competing at the 2008 US Olympic Trials in the 100 free at
the age of 13. She had qualified for those Olympic Trials when she had broken the 11-12 national age-group record in the 100 free.
She debuted on the international scene in 2010 at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Maui, Hawaii. Neal won gold medals as part of the 400 free, 800 free, and 400 medley relays. She also took home a silver medal in 100 free and a bronze medal in the 50 free.
At the 2011 World Junior Championships in Lima, Peru, Neal was a gold medalist in the 100 free and a silver medalist in the 50 free. She also helped Team USA again to relay golds in the 4x100m and 4x200m free relays, and silver in the 4x100m medley relay.