Unlike most Bowdoin students who are spending the summer with friends and family and making plans to watch the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan from the comfort of their homes, women’s swimmer and rising junior Emilie Grand’Pierre ’23 is training to compete at the Olympics.
In just over three weeks, Grand’Pierre will represent her home country of Haiti at the Olympics as she competes in the 100 meter breaststroke.
Grand’Pierre said she was not expecting an Olympic berth this year, especially following the disruption in her training caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[Qualifying] was such a surreal moment. I don’t think [my accomplishments] will fully sink in until I’m [in Tokyo] and in the Olympic pool,” she said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
“If I had told myself a year ago, in the midst of quarantine, that this is where my life would be right now, I wouldn’t have believed myself.”
Despite Grand’Pierre’s disbelief at her own achievement, men’s and women’s swimming Head Coach Brad Burnham never had any doubts about her potential.
“Emilie works hard, she belongs [at the 2021 Summer Olympics], and she can swim [competitively] with a lot of people,” Burnham said.
Grand’Pierre, however, did not always have her sights set on an Olympic appearance.
“When I first came to Bowdoin, I didn’t really know if I wanted to continue swimming for all four years, but the minute I stepped onto the pool deck [at the college level], I found my home and my love for swimming again,” Grand’Pierre said.
Grand’Pierre credits the supportive attitudes of Burnham, Assistant Coach Morgan Cooper and the entire Bowdoin swimming program for creating an inclusive and comforting environment.
To prepare for her upcoming competition on the world stage, Grand’Pierre has been putting trust into her pre-existing training plan and changing very little about her already rigorous routine.
“I’ve been a part of the same club team since I was seven years old. When I’m home I swim for them, and we usually have double sessions every day and weight training three times a week. Then when I’m at Bowdoin, we practice eight times a week,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve changed much to prepare for [the Olympics]. I was a pretty intense swimmer to begin with.”
Burnham stressed the importance of Grand’Pierre’s mentality, highlighting the rigor of her training plan and preservation of her fitness.
“We made sure to be very consistent with her training,” Burnham said. “She stayed in the water, and she stayed in shape for a few weeks after the season during [Bowdoin’s] graduation period. She’s now training with a special coach in Atlanta who has trained her before.”
Looking ahead to the Olympics, Burnham hopes Grand’Pierre will remain relaxed and use the competition to expand her social sphere instead of only focusing on her performance.
“I want her to prepare to swim as fast as she can, but at the same time, she’s a learner,” he said. “She loves to learn new things and meet new people, and this is a great chance for her to connect with [swimmers] from other countries.”
Following the Olympics, Grand’Pierre strives to extend her influence beyond the swimming pool and serve as a role model for other young Haitian athletes.
“Long term, I hope to create clinics, such as one we just partnered with in Haiti, where kids use sports to stay out of gang violence,” she said. “I want to use the platform I’ve built through swimming for Haiti to help [Haitian] children use this sport in the same way I have and create channels for future success.”