Alex and Ralph Grand'Pierre not only have the Olympic dream of swimming for Haiti, but are also spending time with the children in their parents' home country teaching them how to swim and enjoy their time in the water.
Brothers Alexandre and Raphael Grand’Pierre, students at The Walker School, continued their ascent in the world of swimming last weekend when Alex won the 100-meter Breaststroke and Ralph broke a Walker record in the 50-meter freestyle at the Cobb County Championships.
Born in Atlanta to Haitian parents, the boys, in addition to swimming for Walker, are members of the Haitian Swimming Federation and have competed internationally with the goal of qualifying for Haiti at the Olympics. In December, they represented Haiti in Paraguay at the most recent Olympic qualifying event.
“I love to swim internationally,” Alex said. “Through these experiences I have had the opportunity to meet many great athletes that I now consider friends. You start to see and swim against some of the same people, and I especially appreciate meeting other swimmers of color. Plus, I enjoy the travel and the competition.”
The Grand’Pierres grew up swimming at the MLK Natatorium for the City of Atlanta Dolphins, but when renovations closed the facility, they switched to the CT Martin Natatorium. Alex currently practices before school on Tuesdays and Thursdays and after school the other days – a total of almost 20 hours a week in the pool. Ralph, still in a younger age group, practices five times a week for almost 15 hours but will soon join his brother at the top level.
While the boys were in the United States training, the Haiti Aquatic Federation was working back home to build its relationship with FINA (International Swimming Federation) to earn a spot in the international swimming world. Older sister Naomy Grand’Pierre played a pivotal role as a 20-year-old at the University of Chicago. Her dream was to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Her passion for the sport and for Haiti were infectious and she was awarded with a grant to train in Colorado Springs, eventually improving her time, earning the opportunity to participate in the Games. She became Haiti’s first female Olympic swimmer.
It is through these relationships that the Grand’Pierres have had the opportunity to take their swimming to the international level for Team Haiti. Alex has already competed in several other countries, including Peru and Barbados.
Alex explained, “The Federation determines where we swim, so it can be a little hectic. When we swam in December, we got the text, left school, packed our bags, got two COVID tests, registered for the event online, and within hours we were on a plane headed to Asuncion, Paraguay, to compete at the Olympic qualifying event.”
At the event, Alex swam the 100 Breaststroke and finished fourth overall (second in his age group), the 200 Breaststroke (second in his age group), the 50 Free (third in his age group), the 100 Freestyle and the 50 Breaststroke (second in his age group). Ralph swam the 50 Free and finished 10th overall (second in his age group), the 100 Free (third in age group), the 50 Fly 10th overall (second in age group) and the 100 Fly eighth overall (third in age group). During the competition, Ralph broke the Haitian National Record in the 100 Free, while Alex now owns the records for the 50 Breaststroke, 100 Breaststroke and the 200 Breaststroke.
“This was my favorite event so far,” Alex said. “We stayed in the Paraguay Olympic Training Center and had the opportunity to see their teams training and competing. With every event and every swim, our goals just keep getting bigger.”
So how close are Alex and Ralph to the Olympics in Tokyo – really just a few seconds. To be an automatic qualifier for the Olympics, a swimmer must achieve an A Cut time in an event. But there is an additional level, the B Cut. For athletes that have a B Cut time, FINA will apply the Doctrine of Universality, which allows athletes from smaller nations or those with developing swimming programs to place their athletes in the Olympics. Alex is currently 3 seconds off his B Cut time in the 100 Breast, while Ralph is only 2 seconds from the time for the 50 Free.
It’s not just about swimming for the Grand’Pierres. Haiti is a country of 11.5 million people and is a nation surrounded by water, but just 1 percent of the population knows how to swim. This summer, the Grand’Pierres will travel to Haiti for a month to work with the Haiti Aquatic Federation and the Tommy Jackson Foundation where they will host camps focused on teaching children how to swim and love their time in the water.
Four years ago, Alex’s journey brought him to The Walker School. When he visited, he was impressed with the academics, specifically the variety of classes available. “Walker offers a ton of different classes, and if they don’t have the one you want to take, you can create it,” he said. He said he also appreciated the strong sense of community that was immediately apparent during his visit. One year later, Ralph joined him. “It made for a much easier carpool for us to be together,” he said. “I love the hot lunches, but what drew me were the strong academics that I saw during my shadow visit.”
Walker Varsity Swim Coach Bill Schreiner has appreciated the leadership and excellence that both boys have brought to the Walker program. “There are never enough words to express the level of admiration I have for Alexandre and Raphael,” he said. “They will swim any event when called upon at a moment's notice and usually, they do so with a State Qualifying time; regardless if they have swum that event before. I get a thrill watching them in the same race trying to outswim each other. It's a competition that any coach would enjoy. At practice, they put aside all ego and spend time helping others with the finer points of flip turns and starts. It is a true mark of greatness to watch each of them before a race. As they are standing behind the blocks waiting for their race, they will turn to their competitors standing on either side of them and wish them luck and shake their hands. The Grand'Pierres will have a long future in swimming.”