Editor’s Note: An LA84 grant to the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society funded three reporters to attend, report and write stories from the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
BUDAPEST- Sometimes, sporting events can represent more to the athletes competing than just trophies and medals. For Haitian swimmer Naomy Grand’Pierre, 20, swimming is a meaningful way to bring attention to a world issue: increasing safety and diversity in the water.
The statistics for drowning around the world are, even in 2017, startling. Rachel Griffiths of Pennsylvania-based Aquatic Safety Research Group ticked them off: 370,000 annual drowning deaths worldwide, one in every five a child 14 or younger.
Sadly, Grand’Pierre’s own family is a part of that statistic.
“The reason I started swimming is because my three younger cousins drowned when I was 8 years old. Unfortunately, it’s a common thing in Haiti because most Haitians don’t know how to swim,” said Grand’Pierre. “My mom saw me struggling at a pool party so she started me off with swimming lessons as a precaution, and from there it turned into a passion.”
An incredibly bubbly junior at the University of Chicago, Grand’Pierre is the daughter of two Haitian parents. She has four younger siblings. All five learned to swim after the death of her cousins. Grand’Pierre is now one of three athletes representing Haiti at the 17th FINA World Championships. She hopes one day her siblings will compete with her.
“There aren’t a lot of pools in Haiti and the swim team is fairly new. Our first team was created in 2016, and we usually train in a hotel pool. I love being able to do the sport that I love while pioneering something in Haiti.”
As a World Championship athlete, Grand’Pierre is excited about programs like “Swimming for all – Swimming for life.” This campaign, started by FINA, recognizes water safety issues and is dedicated to create more awareness. “We need to make efforts to develop programs and work alongside FINA to encourage water safety throughout the world,” she said. “It’s great seeing all of these organizations encourage water safety. I’d love to take some of their strategies back to Haiti.”
Grand’Pierre is also a member of the U.S. Diversity and Inclusion group, and wants to help bring awareness to different ethnic groups about water safety. In a May report, the USA Swimming Foundation said that 64 percent of African-American children, 45 percent of Hispanic children and 40 percent of Caucasian children have no or low swimming ability, “putting them at risk for drowning.”
Grand’Pierre wants to help lower these statistics and inspire other kids — no matter who — to feel comfortable in the water.
“I’ve been part of the USA Swimming Diversity and Inclusion Committee for three years,” said Grand’Pierre. “We focus on making swimming a more diverse sport, and I’ve been using a lot of what I’ve learned in the U.S. to bring to Haiti and help improve the swimming there.”
In the coming years, Grand’Pierre is hoping not just to graduate from college but, as well, to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
Here, she raced in two 50-meter events, breaststroke and freestyle, on Saturday lowering the national record in the breaststroke to 35.85. All good, but she said there’s still a lot of work ahead.
“We are part of a big cultural change and are really developing the sport in the country,” she said. “It’s not just about swimming and competing in the water, it’s been about making a difference in a country and the world.”