Imagine a man, 6’2″, running at full speed. He takes three long strides and then jumps. Gracefully soaring through the air, he pulls his long legs up slightly underneath him and then lands, forcefully, in a pile of sand. You’ve probably seen this before because it’s the long jump, one of the many competitive events in track and field. But my friend Samyr Laine, isn’t just any long-jumper, he’s one that is poised to compete for Haiti in the 2012 Olympics in the triple jump. This humble prodigy -who was recently featured on Bloomberg.com- was gracious enough to share his more personal fitness story here on ChicFitChef!
1. Tell us about yourself!
I am originally from upstate New York. I compete for Haiti in the triple jump (both of my parents are Haitian). I have represented Haiti at the Pan American Games (in Rio de Janeiro and in Guadalajara), Outdoor World Championships (in Berlin and in Daegu), Indoor World Championships (in Doha and in Istanbul), Central American and Caribbean Championships (in Mayaguez) and will be doing so at this summer’s Olympic Games in London. My goal is to win Haiti’s first medal since 1928! I was an NCAA All-American at Harvard University and won a bronze medal at the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Championships, a gold in 2011 and finished 5th at the 2011 Pan American Games.
In the end, my ultimate goal -aside from winning a medal for Haiti at the Olympics- is to leave a legacy for the country that will inspire Haitians both on the island and in the diaspora. I hope to make them proud and represent them as best I can with the gifts God has blessed me with. When I’m done competing, I want the hands-on work I do in Haiti and with Haitian children to be just as impactful as anything I accomplish on the country’s behalf as an Olympic athlete.
2. How did you first get involved in track and field athletics? What attracted you to this sport?
Initially I was a soccer player (like nearly every child raised in a Caribbean household!). My nickname on the soccer field was ‘Wheels’ because of my speed, so in 7th grade I figured track would be right up my alley. It turns out that that nickname wasn’t so appropriate at first! I began my track and field career as a distance runner, running the steeplechase and 2 mile events. My mile run time actually wasn’t fast enough in 8th grade for me to stay on the team, but I returned to the team at the end of my junior year motivated by the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I was then fast enough to train and compete with the sprinters, which was my ultimate goal. After returning to the team, my coach suggested I try my hand at the long and triple jumps which turned out to be where my true talent was found.
3. Tell us about the Olympics! You’re currently training for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. What is the process for getting onto the Olympic team?
Competing for a country with an Olympic team as small as Haiti’s is both a gift and a curse. The support the country can give isn’t nearly on par with the U.S. or Great Britain, but I also don’t have to endure a grueling Olympic Trials to make the team. For me the goal was simply to hit the Olympic standard which I did once the qualifying window opened last May. Now my goal is to get to London as healthy as possible and do what I can to compete for a medal and make my family, the country and my supporters proud!
4. As you’ve said, your family is from Haiti and you’re competing for Haiti in the 2012 Olympics. What made you decide to compete for Haiti?
When I finished up my master’s degree at The University of Texas and my collegiate eligibility along with it, I wasn’t at the level that I am at now and wouldn’t have been able to qualify to represent the US in any championships or Olympic Games. That, coupled with the fact that the good that I can do as a representative of and ambassador for Haiti is several times greater than for the U.S. factored into my decision to compete for Haiti. Also, Haiti hasn’t had an Olympic medal since 1928 -and very few Olympic finalists since then- so my successes in the international arena mean that much more to the country…even if I’m just an athlete.
5. Can you tell us a little bit about your current training regimen? What is a typical training day like for you?
Generally I lift weights about 3 times a week, do some sort of running (nothing too long) about twice a week and focus on actual triple jumping about twice a week as well. More specifically, on a weight room day for example, I’ll get to the track around 10:30am or so, after a good breakfast and after reviewing my goals for the workout. We begin with a warm up and some light exercises with just the 45lb bar (of course I still begin every exercise with a few warm up sets of that particular exercise as well). Once the warm up is out of the way, we’ll get into our exercises. It’s usually 2 or 3 ‘core’ Olympic lifts such as power clean, power snatch and maybe push press or deadlifts. This is then followed by 3 ‘supplemental’ exercises like lunges, step-ups, calf raises etc. My coach determines the repetitions and sets and that varies depending on where we are in our preparation for the season.
Once done in the weight room we’ll either get to the running or jumping portion of the workout, depending on what my coach has planned. Not everyday is a combination of weights and some other workout though. If we’re running, we’ll have drills, followed by some sets of sled pulls and then some sort of running routine either emphasizing speed endurance (100m – 300m), power (hills) or absolute speed (20m – 80m).
6. Sounds like a tough workout! How has becoming a professional athlete impacted your diet? What foods help you train at your best (pre- and post-workout)? What foods do you avoid?
It has definitely made me a lot more particular about what I put into my body and perhaps more importantly, when I do so. Generally, aside from fatty foods and those loaded with sugar, I like to avoid carbohydrates excluding those found in fruits and vegetables. That said, I do include wheat and whole grain products in my diet on a regular basis. Following a workout when I need to replenish my ‘glycogen stores’ and energy in general, I’ll go for other sorts of carbs and actually Zpizza is probably the place I frequent most immediately following a workout! Thanks to the quality of their ingredients it actually fits in quite well to what I need for my body following a 3 to sometimes 5 hours training session. Before a workout I try to make sure that I’ve had enough protein but also some sort of quality carbohydrates to get me through. I find that black beans are great for both of those goals and oatmeal is perfect in the morning if I have an early workout. I still tend to have a protein shake prior to a workout even if I’ve already eaten food that is high in protein. And I won’t even mention the ‘cheat day’ I give myself once a week!
7. You’re an Olympic hopeful, but you’re also a licensed attorney. Did you ever feel like you had to choose between your athletic and educational dreams? How do you balance both?
I’ve actually been fortunate in that I never had to choose between the two. I competed internationally and represented Haiti throughout law school and even did so while studying for the bar exam. It was and has been a difficult balancing act but knowing that I have goals in both arenas not only keeps me grounded but also keeps me focused so that I don’t waste time or energy. That was definitely the key throughout college and particularly throughout grad school, law school and while studying for the bar exam. Making the most of the time that I had whether it was being efficient at the track or staying ahead with work while traveling by train or plane and in my ‘free time’. I’m blessed to be able to train full-time now though and I haven’t started practicing law just yet.
8. For those readers who may be thinking about pursuing a career as a professional athlete, what advice do you have?
Being a professional athlete, regardless of the sport, is about discipline and self-motivation. No matter how talented or skilled one is, those two things tie it all together; with hard work being a product of discipline. Setting goals and being disciplined enough to work steadily towards those goals will serve future professional athletes well, but you also can’t forget to appreciate the achievement of each goal as it fuels you to the next. Just like with anything else, realistic, ‘miniature’ goal setting helps the larger goal (making it to a professional league, running a personal best, winning a big competition) come into view step by step.
9. For those readers who are just starting out building a fitness regimen (diet/exercise), what words of encouragement would you give that have been helpful to you?
Someone once said “Nobody said it would be easy, just that it would be worth it.” I wish I knew where that quote came from, but I remind myself of it on a regular basis and it would have to be my words of encouragement for those starting a new fitness regimen. The regimen, whatever it may be, will be worthwhile in the long run because your health matters and your diet and fitness directly contribute to your health and quality of life. While most fitness regimens are difficult, simply because they’re new and different, remembering that it will be worth it down the road always helps to keep you on track.
Returning to that ‘cheat day’ I mentioned above, don’t forget to enjoy the process of getting fitter and healthier; it will make it easier to stay on course. If that means the weekly cheat day to get you motivated to eat right again then so be it, but remember to have fun. Sites like ChicFitChef.com show just how tasty it can be to eat healthy and how much fun it can be to get in shape. It doesn’t have to be the drudgery that so many people anticipate it being; not at all!
10. Has anyone you know been touched by diabetes or a health-related illness? If so, how has this impacted your perspective on health & fitness?
I have an uncle who has diabetes and lost a grandfather to bone cancer. In much the same way that being an athlete has made me more aware of my diet, my family members dealing with these illnesses has really made me understand the value of fitness although illnesses- particularly cancer, which can strike even the healthiest of people. Still, there is no substitute for the protections a fit, healthy and well cared for body can mount against many illnesses and that is something I’ll remember even after I’m done competing.
11. What inspired you to compete at the Olympic level? Was there a particular event/person that inspired you?
There wasn’t a particular person or event that inspired me to compete at this level. However, my family and the folks that know me well always encourage me to improve and support my endeavors which has helped as far as inspiration and motivation are concerned. I’m always striving for the best -whether it’s athletically or otherwise- so when I finished up at Texas I knew that I had more left to accomplish, more growth to experience and more that I could do as an athlete. That was the same feeling that got me to put off law school for a year and head down to Texas to finish up my collegiate eligibility in the first place. I’m not sure I’ll ever say I’m satisfied with how far I’ve come but each and every day I know that there’s a way that I can get better.
ChicFitChef.com was started by Helen Ogbara, an attorney & health enthusiast, inspired by her experiences cooking diabetic-friendly meals and getting fit at home with workout DVDs. ChicFitChef.com offers recipes, exercise & fitness tips and personal health-awareness interviews. Visit chicfitchef.com for a fresh and colorful perspective on living a healthy lifestyle!