MINNEAPOLIS — Athletics played a key role in Malik Rucker's early life.
The north Minneapolis native starred on the football field for Robbinsdale Cooper and, following his high school graduation in 2013, played defensive back at Iowa and Western Michigan.
But his path to a Division I scholarship didn't come without challenges.
"As a former athlete, I grew up on the North Side of Minneapolis and had to drive to Maple Grove, Eden Prairie, Hopkins, to learn how to be an elite athlete," Rucker said. "I had to go out there to get the best facilities."
That's why he's so passionate about his work at the north Minneapolis non-profit, V3 Sports, which is building an aquatics and wellness center at the corner of Plymouth and Lyndale in the Near North neighborhood.
The centerpiece will be a 50-meter, state-of-the-art swimming pool -- purchased in 2019 and used last month at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. After some of the sport's top names competed in the pool, crews disassembled the pieces and brought them to Minneapolis, where V3 Sports expects it can be up and running at the new center within the next five years depending on fundraising.
Rucker showed KARE 11 the building blocks of the pool at V3's headquarters on Friday, just a few hours before NBC aired the Opening Ceremonies to a national audience.
"It makes it feel so much more real," Rucker said. "And it makes it feel attainable."
Pieces of the pool are sprawled throughout two enormous rooms with high ceilings, including a fancy filtration system that Rucker says will churn out water cleaner than what people normally drink.
When it's finished, the pool's spectator section will overlook the Minneapolis skyline. But, as Rucker points out, "we'll see the skyline, but those downtown will see us as well." That visibility, he hopes, will grow interest in swimming and make the sport more accessible to the neighborhood he calls home.
"These kids will have the opportunity to do that right here. It's accessible on the bus line, walking distance from many schools, and there are bike lanes outside the facility as well," Rucker said. "It's very accessible as far as transportation goes."
The aquatics and community center will also include a smaller instructional pool, which is part of Phase 1 of V3's project. That pool will be critical for younger swimmers, teaching them valuable skills at an early age. According to USA Swimming, the drowning rate for Black children is more than five times higher than it is for white children.
"We see that there's very disproportionate drowning rates between different communities, and prevalent on the North Side of Minneapolis," Rucker said. "This pool is just really a tool to teach people to learn how to save their lives if they get into drowning situations."
V3 is still campaigning for donations, needing about $4 million for Phase 1 that includes the instructional pool. After that, more donations will be needed for Phase 2, which includes the 50-meter Olympic Trials pool.
When it's all up and running, Rucker envisions a center that can serve as a pillar of north Minneapolis, including not only pools but basketball courts and an indoor track, among many other features.
"If you're a spectator at the V3 Center for a swim meet, you'll be able to see downtown, see the skyline, see the bright lights," Rucker said. "We genuinely believe that there will be an Olympic swimmer in this pool, that grew up in the V3 Center in north Minneapolis."