It was a simple question asked by Naomy Grand’Pierre’s parents after watching Michael Phelps and Collen Jones swim their 2008 Olympic relay.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if you guys started a Haitian swim team?”
With Haiti’s recent controversial presidential election, lack of governance and soccer being the country’s national sport, the 19-year-old Canadian didn’t think it was possible to swim for her parents’ homeland, Haiti. But she did. Reaching out to organizations like the Haitian Swimming Federation, the Atlanta-bred athlete became Haiti’s first female Olympic swimmer. Yet, Grand’Pierre knew that there was more work to be done to help Haiti’s small swim community. Her next game plan was to bring their resources to the masses.
“I talked to the Federation and realized that we have a 50-meter pool sitting here,” Grand’Pierre told her sweat. “It would be great to see what it takes to get it renovated and really have a project where we could open some pools in Haiti, where not only I can come back and train but other people can join me and learn how to swim.”
For the young go-getter, her eyes aren’t only on 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Grand’Pierre is training for the Federation Internationale De Natation (FINA) World Champs in Budapest by representing Haiti along with two other swimmers in the international swim competition. Grand’Pierre will compete on Saturday (July 29) in the 50-meters breaststroke and 50 meters freestyle while the championships will run from July 23 – 30.
In between her training for FINA, school and work, Grand’Pierre discussed the most valuable lessons she learned in the 2016 Olympic Games, her advice to young swimmers and her favorite Haitian delicacies to eat on cheat days.
What I learned from Rio 2016: The most valuable lesson is that dreams do come true. It’s super cliché, but when I was 10 years old, I really wanted to go to the Olympics. I would tell everybody and would always get negative feedback. People would say ‘You know how hard it is to do that? You’re not fast enough.’ So I learned very early on, dreams are super fragile and you only share it with people who are there to encourage you and share that journey with you.
My pre-game routine: Most of the time before a big race, I have a lot of nerves, so I [listen to my] go-to album, Wiped Out by The Neighborhood. It’s a very California chill, vibes-y album. I listen to the entire album and that’s kind of what really calms me down and gets me in my element to focus on nothing else but what I need to do.
What my coach has taught me: The main thing he told me was to trust my training. When you train for anything, you have very intense practices and weight sessions, and right before a championship, you start tapering down the amount of practices. It’s actually a very scary and mental aspect of training because you have to hold everything that you have been training. Trust your training and [don’t let] the small details psych you out.
My workout regimen: I work out every single day except Sundays. I go to the weight room three times a week for about an hour session. I have two dry land practices, where I can do anything from sit-ups to running, then I’m swimming from six to 10 times a week. Obviously, when I’m in school, I’m swimming less outside of school. Swim practice is about two hours, dry land is about an hour and weight room is an hour. I’ll lift in the morning and swim in the afternoon. On Friday, I’ll just swim in the morning.
On my cheat days: I definitely sleep in. I don’t really eat processed foods that aren’t good for you. If I go to a restaurant and I’m getting a really nice dessert then I’ll do that. I love Haitian food. My favorite is legume with diri (rice and legume), banan pezé (fried plantains) is my favorite. I love Haitian hot chocolate because nothing is as ever as thick and sweet as hot chocolate. I love Haitian macaroni gratin. Whenever I go to Haiti, I get lambi and lobster.
My least favorite workouts: They’re called croggle reps because you’re crying in your goggles. It’s a best average set— high intensity, high threshold, not a lot of reps [but] very hard grueling reps. Those sets are very painful and to get the best out of those sets, you need to stay at that pain threshold so you can increase your pain tolerance. You’re pushing your body to the limit.
My meals during training season: Strictly protein and only healthy food. In the morning, I’ll eat three scrambled eggs, ham, cheese and tomatoes. For lunch, I’ll have a salad with two pieces of chicken and for dinner, it’ll be pasta or another salad with hard boiled eggs. I’ll add fruit or orange juice but the centerpiece of each meal is having as much protein as I can.
My advice to young swimmers: One: get things in perspective. For me, there were a lot of days when I would wake up at 5 in the morning so exhausted from staying up late from the night before doing homework. I’m sore from lifting and I just want to snooze my alarm, but keep things in perspective. I’m getting up because I’m training. I’m trying to make a difference in Haiti. I’m trying to qualify in the next Olympic games. Keeping things in perspective helps you for the days you lose motivation, you feel like giving up and quitting. Having that perspective really helps you have the will to continue.
My second piece of advice is to never give up on your dreams. There’s this quote that really spoke to me, “If your dreams don’t scare you, then you’re not dreaming big enough.” There’s nothing that’s too big that I can’t do. It’s just a matter of writing your goals down and figuring out the baby steps you need to take in order to achieve what you need to do. It’s funny because for a long time, I really wanted to go to the Olympics and everyone told me that it wasn’t possible and it was something that I couldn’t do and I was able to do the impossible. It’s just a matter of having that mindset and realizing that anything you want to do is definitely doable.