Sports Envoy
Sports Envoy Program

Cathy Bennett

Swimming

Served as envoy

  • 2022  –  Belarus

Cathy Bennett has maintained a longstanding relationship with Phelps Family. She taught Michael Phelps how to swim and now acts as Director of Programming at the Michael Phelps Foundation and Director of Michael Phelps Swimming. In 1994, Cathy helped found the North Baltimore Swim School, which eventually transformed into the Michael Phelps Swimming in 2009. In 2003, Cathy was a featured speaker at the American Swimming Coaches Association World Clinic, and, in 2006, Cathy was recognized at the British Swimming Coaches and Teaching Association Conference. Cathy holds a master’s degree from Towson University in Early Childhood Education. She served as an educator in the school system before becoming a full-time swimming instructor. She also sits on multiple community boards.

Marissa Fortier

Marissa Fortier

Swimming

Served as envoy

  • 2022  –  Belarus

Marissa Fortier is the Managing Director at the Michael Phelps Foundation and has been working alongside Michael Phelps since 2003. She has been with the Foundation since it was founded in 2008 and helped developed the Foundation’s signature IM Program curriculum in 2009 and piloted the program in 2010. Marissa lives in Maine with her husband, two daughters, and a dog.

Dian Christensen

Dian Christensen

Swimming

Served as envoy

  • 2022  –  Belarus

Dian Christensen Hillis will be instrumental in expanding the im program in the United States through our partnership with Special Olympics. Dian has been instructing and coaching aquatics for Special Olympics for over 20 years. She started a local program to provide a Special Olympics sports opportunity for her daughter. The competitive program started with eight athletes and has grown to over 35 swimmers who train year-round. Her Learn-To-Swim program has reached nearly 175 athletes. In 2006, 2010, and 2014, Dian served as the Nebraska Head Aquatics Coach for the Special Olympics National Games. She was named the Assistant Coach for the 2007 Special Olympic World Games and Head Coach for the 2011 and 2015 Special Olympics World Games. Dian has been successfully using the im Program since 2010 not only with her local program athletes but also with athletes she is training and coaching for the national and world stages.

Katie Ledecky

Swimming

Served as envoy

  • 2018  –  Japan
  • 2019  –  South Korea

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1997, Kathleen Ledecky (Katie, for short) did not waste much time before beginning her already-legendary swimming career. She started swimming at age 6, following in her older brother Michael’s footsteps. All before she passed her driver’s license test, she had two world records, four world championships, one Olympic gold.

Ledecky exploded onto the U.S. swimming scene in 2012 at the Olympic Trials, where she was the youngest swimmer at the meet. She quickly claimed her spot in the future of American swimming by winning the 800 freestyle and finishing third in the 400 and ninth in the 200. A few weeks later, she surprised her country and the world with a gold medal finish in the 800 freestyle at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Her time of 8:14.63 was incredibly close to the World Record and broke Janet Evans’ long-standing American Record of 8:16.22.

In the 1500, she shaved nearly six seconds off of Kate Ziegler’s previous world record in a hard-fought battle against Denmark’s Lotte Friis. Ledecky also made her international relay debut in Barcelona and won gold in the 4×200 freestyle relay with teammates Shannon Vreeland, Karlee Bispo and Missy Franklin. The 2013 FINA Female Swimmer of the Meet has certainly proven herself as a crucial part of the future of American swimming.

Lia Neal

Swimming

Served as envoy

  • 2017  –  China
  • 2017  –  Hong Kong
  • 2017  –  Singapore

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.

Donna De Varona

Swimming

Served as envoy

  • 2019  –  Malta

At age 13, Donna de Varona was the youngest member of the United States swimming team at the Olympic Games Rome 1960. The San Diego native broke 18 world records by the age of 17, and won two gold medals when she competed in the 400-meter individual medley and the 4×100 freestyle relay at the Tokyo 1964 Games. She was named Female Athlete of the Year by both the Associated Press and United Press International. Following retirement at competitive swimming at age 17, de Varona began a successful sportscasting career. She was both the first female sportscaster and first woman to cover the Olympics for television in the United States, covering the Olympic Games for ABC in 1968, 1972 and 1976. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in political science from UCLA. She helped co-found the Women’s Sports Foundation and served as the organization’s first president from 1976-84. She also worked as a consultant to the United States Senate, specifically regarding the Amateur Sports Act to give women and minorities greater access to athletics facilities and money. De Varona was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, the President’s Commission on Olympic Sports and International Swimming Hall of Fame.