A competitive teen athlete’s dream is to see their hard work pay off. The Olympic Games is a series of sporting events for the best of the best. Being a teenager and already reaching the point to qualify for the Olympics is an accomplishment. To get in the mind of a first-time teen Olympian, I interviewed 19-year-old Naomy Grand’Pierre who grew up in Atlanta and graduated from Whitefield Academy, and will be competing in the 50-meter freestyle swimming event with the Haiti team.
Grand’Pierre, who is now a rising sophomore at the University of Chicago, started swimming competitively when she was 10 years told, and today, Aug. 2, she arrives in Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Here’s what she has to say about this dream come true.
Has the Olympics always been a dream for you?
After I got into swimming, going to the Olympics was a big aspiration of mine. I remember when I was 13, I got selected to go to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for a National Diversity Select Camp and I thought, “This could really happen.” But after getting injured running track [a second sport], my times stopped improving, and I didn’t think the Olympics were an option for me anymore. The fact that I am now able to compete in the Olympics for Haiti is really a dream come true! And I am glad that I pushed through those years when I wasn’t doing so well in the water.
What’s been the most exciting part of your journey to Rio so far?
The most exciting part of this journey has been the things that I have learned. I have gotten so much exposure to things I normally wouldn’t have. I’ve gotten to travel and meet so many new people [Hatian teammates and four Olympians, one from Fiji, Grenada, Guyana and Antigua], and I have really learned so much! Going to Rio is going to give me more exposure to cultures and people, and I am so excited to learn more and experience new things.
What led you to represent Haiti in Rio?
My parents [who are from Haiti] have always wanted to send a relay team for Haiti, and I always thought they were being overly ambitious. But late last year, I started taking their vision seriously, and we reached out to the Haitian Swimming Federation to see what it would take to represent Haiti at the Olympics for swimming.
What did it take to get a Haiti swimming team from Haiti?
It took a lot of work. Just in terms of history, the last time Haiti had representation at the Olympics in swimming was back in 1996 with male swimmer, Alain Sergile. In 2014, the current Haitian Swimming Federation got affiliated to FINA [the international governing organization of swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming and open water swimming], and until now, there has not been much activity in terms of swimming in Haiti. This past year has really been a learning process not only for the new athletes on the national team but also for the officials in the Federation. A lot of what we did was on a trial-and-error basis. We faced a lot of obstacles and many more keep coming our way, but our hard work is definitely paying off. Now, after a 20-year disappearance from the sport, Haiti was able to compete in its first Caribbean Island Championship Meet as a four-person team, and they are now sending [to the Olympic Games] both a male swimmer — Mike Dorsainville — and myself, Haiti’s first female swimmer.
Have you ever heard the stereotype black girls don’t swim? How does that stereotype impact you?
I definitely have heard of the stereotype, and it has made this sport challenging. There are certain things like getting my nails done or having my hair straight that I can never do because the water ruins it.
It’s also hard being a minority in the sport [80 percent of African Americans are not competent swimmers, according to The International Swimming Hall of Fame] because the challenges that I face as a black swimmer are something that I have to face alone most times. Little things like staying in the locker room longer than my teammates to fix my hair or put on lotion are challenges I’ve had to learn to deal with. Even going to meets where I am the only black person on deck can be a little intimidating. But these are challenges that I have gotten used to and learned not to complain about. I decided to just push through and not use these challenges as an excuse to quit or stop trying. It’s hard but the rewards have definitely been worth it.
Do you have any tips for teen athletes who dream to go to the Olympic Games?
My biggest tip is not to ever give up on your dream. I was so close to just giving up swimming and throwing everything that I had worked for away. But now looking back, I am so glad that I stayed patient and had the discipline and determination to persevere despite the challenges.
There has literally never been a female swimmer for Haiti, so this has been a very challenging process in itself. But learning to have faith and believe that things will work out has really helped. I am also very grateful to my parents for being so supportive of me.
I would definitely say that secondly, you should find yourself a great support system because the journey to the Olympics is a hard one, and you don’t want to face it alone. My parents and my select group of friends were really helpful in encouraging me throughout this process.
And lastly, I would say to protect your dream. I learned very early on not to share my dream of going to the Olympics with many people. Dreams are fragile and can be destroyed very easily. People would often laugh or tell me that there was no way that I could ever accomplish such a feat. [People would say] that I was being unrealistic, and if you allow these people’s words to get to you, then you will never chase after your seemingly “unrealistic dreams.” I learned to protect my dream. I shared my goals with my family and only my closest friends, those who could support me and motivate me to keep trying. Everyone else who was going to deter me from my goals or laugh or be negative were kept away.
Is your family going with you to Rio? Who are you going with?
Unfortunately, because of how expensive the trip to Rio is, my family will not be able to attend, but I know they will be cheering me on and watching on TV. My coach and I will be flying out to Rio from Atlanta and will meet my teammate Mike Dorsainville [there].
Do you know anybody on the Haiti team?
Not yet, but we have communicated over Facebook and we are so excited to meet one another.
Will you connect with the U.S. team?
Oh, definitely, and other teams as well. I am excited to get to connect with people from all over the world, and that is what is encouraged. For example, every country gets a certain amount of pins, and throughout the games you exchange pins from different countries and collect them so that hopefully by the end of the Games, you have a number of different pins from multiple countries!
Naomy is scheduled to compete on Aug. 12 in Rio.
Dasia Evertsz, 17, is a rising senior at Our Lady of Mercy who wants to major in mass communications.