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Chicago swimmer Grand’Pierre set to represent Haiti at Rio Games

University of Chicago sophomore Naomy Grand'Pierre is the first-ever Haitian female swimmer to compete in the Olympics.

Naomy Grand’Pierre, a sophomore swimmer at the University of Chicago, always imagined competing in the 2016 Olympics.

She just never thought it would happen like this.

Since she was a little kid in Atlanta, Grand’Pierre, who will be the first female swimmer to compete for Haiti at the Rio Games, had dreamed of donning the red, white and blue for the United States.

But as her career progressed, she went through several injuries, including major shin splints and fractures, which shortened her lap times and slowed her development.

“In my head, I was like, “There’s no way I’m going to be able to do the times necessary to be able to go to the Olympics,’” Grand’Pierre said. “[The conversations about the Olympics] became fewer and fewer.”

But instead of quitting, she touched back on her roots and explored another way of competing in Rio. After consulting with several of her friends and family last year, Grand’Pierre made history and decided to swim for Haiti.

“It is something that has never been done before and it makes me incredibly proud to represent my home country,’ said Grand’Pierre, who holds dual Haitian-American citizenship because her parents are native Haitians who emigrated to the U.S. before she was born. “I was stubborn when I was younger but after thinking more about it, I’m so happy to compete for Haiti and swim in the Olympics.

Grand’Pierre began swimming when she was 8 – when her mother enrolled her in swimming lessons after Grand’Pierre’s aunt drowned.

“My mom was so worried after my aunt died,” she said. “ It’s crazy because from that moment, swimming lessons turned into swimming classes and my career just took off from there.”

Grand’Pierre qualified for the Rio Games after competing in the Bahamas last month for the Caribbean Island Swimming Championships. The meet served as the Olympic qualifier for the Caribbean Islands region.

“I knew I was fast enough to qualify,” Grand’Pierre said. “I just didn’t know if I would finally be able to put it together when it mattered the most.”

She competed in three events in the Bahamas qualifier. She qualified for the finals in the 50-meter butterfly, finishing eighth with a personal-best time of 30.11. In the 100-meter freestyle, she split to use a time of 27.72 for the 50-meter freestyle, then swam the actual 50-meter freestyle with a mark of 27.35.

Although Grand’Pierre didn’t make the automatic qualifying cut for Rio, a phone call from Federation Internationale De Natation officials a few days later informed her she’d still be able to compete. She’d been selected as Haiti’s female swimming representative under the universality rule, which allows a country with no qualifying swimmers to invite up to one male and one female athlete to compete in a single event. Grand’Pierre is scheduled to compete in the 50-meter freestyle on Aug. 13. Haiti is fielding just 11 athletes total in Rio.

Grand’Pierre swam 10 years for the City of Atlanta Dolphins before her first season with Chicago in 2015-16.

“As a freshman, Naomy was the hardest worker on our team last year,” Chicago coach Jason Webber said. “For her to be so young and ambitious, it’s something you don’t see that often. We’re incredibly excited for her to represent Chicago and Haiti.”

Grand’Pierre said she plans to compete in 2020 but her mind is focused on Rio. She is scheduled to compete in the 50-meter freestyle on Aug. 13.

“I’m going to make the most of this opportunity,” Grand’Pierre said. “When I step up on the blocks, I know I will be making history for Haiti and fulfilling my childhood dream.”