The internet is rallying around this Ethiopian swimmer who was fat-shamed.

Robel Kiros Habte, a swimmer from Ethiopia, will not be taking home a medal in Rio de Janeiro this summer ... to put it kindly.

The 24-year-old finished 59th out of 59 competitors in the 100-meter freestyle heats this week at the Olympics. He was the only swimmer to finish above one minute, clocking in 17 seconds slower (which is probably something like five months in swimmer time) than Australian swimmer Kyle Chalmers, whose time took the winning spot.

Clearly, it wasn't Habte's best race.


To make matters worse, the internet seized on something that made Habte stand out amongst the line of Michael Phelps-esque physiques standing poolside.

Habte doesn't flaunt the sort of chiseled, six-pack builds people expect to see when swimming competitions come on.

Photo by Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters.

As you might imagine, many of the reactions weren't too ... nice.

"How in the world did this Ethiopian swimmer ... qualify for the Olympics? Overweight & embarrassingly slow," one person wrote on Twitter. Another mocked him as "the greatest chubby swimmer in the Olympics."

It didn't take long for the nickname "Robel the Whale" to start cropping up across the web.

Heartbreakingly, the online bullying took a toll on Habte.

"It has been difficult," he admitted of the online hate to The Daily Mail, explaining he's taking a break from social media to tune it out.

"I don't know how I feel, but many things. Some of the things people have said or written are not nice. I am a nice person, I would not say these things about others."

Never mind the fact Habte was recently sidelined from his Olympic training for months due to a car accident injury — no athlete (or anyone, for that matter) deserves to be ridiculed for the way they look.

Fortunately, many folks spotted the fat-shaming hate floating around the web. And they were not here for it.

Seemingly overnight, Habte's very own fanbase began blossoming, coming to his defense:

As far back as the people in the stands who watched him compete? They had his back, too.

Habte was invited to compete at the games through world aquatics sports group FINA as a means to include more athletes from under-represented countries, Reuters reported.

So, no — no one really expected him to be bringing home a medal. But his last place finish did raise some eyebrows about how he qualified in the first place.

Here's the thing, though: Despite some crying foul over the fact Habte's father is the head of Ethiopia's swimming federation, the athlete's finishing time is actually pretty incredible stacked up against the fastest swimmers to ever come out of his home country.

On the world stage, Habte may have seemed to move at a glacial pace, but in a country renowned for having some of the fastest athletes on land, Habte is a standout.  

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images.

As Slate's Elliot Hannon argued, he deserved to be there.

At the end of the day, Habte is simply following his dreams.

"I wanted to do something different for my country, that’s why I chose swimming," he told Reuters. "Everybody, every day you wake up in Ethiopia, you run. Not swimming. But I didn’t want to run, I wanted to be a swimmer."

"It didn’t matter where I finished."

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

"I am so happy because it is my first competition in the Olympics," he said. "So thanks for God."

Don't listen to the haters, Robel Habte. Just keep swimming.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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