How a dual citizen of the U.S. and Haiti looks to make her mark in Rio

When she dives into the pool, Naomy Grand’Pierre will do so as Haiti’s first female Olympic swimmer. The 19-year-old student at the University of Chicago grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, the oldest of five children. After a cousin drowned, her mother, a Haitian immigrant, made sure Grand’Pierre and all her siblings learned to swim.

Grand’Pierre quickly outgrew her first swimming classes and joined a city swim team in Atlanta. Her times, which kept getting faster, attracted the attention of a coach in Haiti.

And Haiti in 2010 attracted the attention of Grand’Pierre’s family. “When the earthquake happened in 2010, it forced a lot of Haitians to turn back home and look where we came from,” said Clio Grand’Pierre, Naomy’s mother, who, after visiting a swim club in Haiti, took to the idea of her daughter competing in the Olympics for the Caribbean country.

Naomy kept training, and with her performance in a meet in the Bahamas, she qualified for the Olympics in the 50-meter freestyle. She will be joining Haiti’s contingent of 11 athletes in the Parade of Nations on August 5.

Grand’Pierre and hundreds of other Olympians in Rio are dual citizens. They have passports in two countries and the legal rights and obligations of both countries.

The Olympic Charter stipulates that athletes must be nationals of the country for which they compete. U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one nationality or another.

While she hopes to make history with her swim, Grand’Pierre’s goals reach beyond the Olympics. She wants to share her sport more universally. Right now, “there are no role models for Haitians to look up to when it comes to swimming,” she said.

“Swimming is something all people can have access to. It’s for anybody of any race and gender.”

Grand’Pierre will swim in the the 50-meter freestyle on August 12. Follow your favorite swimmers in Rio from August 6 to 13. 

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