SWIMMING sensation Mikaili Charlemagne is enjoying a successful campaign in the pool. The 13- year-old is a form three student of St. Joseph’s Convent and has already qualified for this year’s CARIFTA Games in the Bahamas scheduled for April and is looking forward to a podium finish at the Games.
The VOICE spoke to the aspiring young swimmer following last weekend’s Developmental Meet at the Rodney Heights Aquatic Centre, which was organized by the Saint Lucia Amateur Swimming Association.
Charlemagne, a member of the Sharks Swim Club, told The VOICE that her favourite subject is Mathematics “because it is exciting solving problems. Mathematics problems are brain teasers for me.” She also spoke about other aspects of herself.
The VOICE: When did you get interested in sports?
Charlemagne: I got interested in swimming in grade four when I returned to swimming practice after a two-year break.
The VOICE: What is your biggest achievement in the sport to date?
Charlemagne: My biggest achievement so far was qualifying for the finals in two events last year — the CARIFTA Games in March and the Caribbean Islands Swimming Championships in June, placing 4th in the finals of the 50-Metre Freestyle. Although I was unable to medal, it motivated me to work even harder and to perform better in the future.
The VOICE: What do you do in your training that is key to your success?
Charlemagne: I listen to the coaches during training, especially when they are giving corrections and tips about how to swim better. I think following directions is very important to be successful.
The VOICE: What is the best advice you were given, and by whom?
Charlemagne: It came from my mother. She said one’s character is more important than their grades or any medals and trophies they will ever receive and to put God first and everything will fall into place.
The VOICE: What is your biggest challenge, and what do you do to manage it?
Charlemagne: My biggest challenge is improving my times. We train really hard and sometimes when we go into a competition and I do not improve my times, it can be disappointing. But I never give up.
The VOICE: Who is your favourite local, regional and international swimmer, and why?
Charlemagne: I have many favourite local swimmers but I really admire Jordan Augier and Runnako Daniel because they have accomplished so much, are very down-to-earth and encourage us at overseas competitions. They made us younger swimmers very comfortable at the CISC in the Bahamas.
My favourite regional and international swimmer is Alia Atkinson because her story is encouraging. She never gives up and uses disappointments to motivate her to pursue her dreams. She is dedicated and is an inspiration for young Caribbean athletes, especially young female swimmers. When she broke the world record in the 100-metre breaststroke, I actually felt encouraged and knew that if she could do it, so could I.
The VOICE: What makes you different from other athletes?
Charlemagne: I am self-motivated. When I make up my mind to do something, I work hard at it. My mindset is that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I don’t know if that makes me different but it makes me who I am.
The VOICE: How much time do you spend training/practicing?
Charlemagne: I practice and train every day. On some days, I train twice. I do morning sessions from 5:15 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. before school and after school I train in the evening with my club. I also do dry land training two or three days a week.
The VOICE: Athletes talk a lot about nutrition. Are there any foods you need to avoid?
Charlemagne: Yes, there are foods that I avoid. I never really liked fried foods, so that’s been easy. As an athlete, I need to stay away from junk foods and fast food. I always try to eat healthily. Most days I go to school with lunch prepared by my mother so I don’t eat a lot of canteen food.
The VOICE: How difficult is it to control your diet?
Charlemagne: Controlling my diet is not really challenging because I was raised eating healthily. My mother has always cooked for me and I have always gone to school with a lunch bag packed with healthy snacks such as nuts, fruits and yoghurts.
The VOICE: How do you deal with and overcome obstacles?
Charlemagne: I had an injury about two years ago which was mainly due to poor technique. For that I had to do months of physiotherapy and eventually got help to improve my technique. I also have to do certain exercises regularly to ensure that I do not get any injuries.
The VOICE: Do you have time management issues?
Charlemagne: I do not. We get a lot of homework so I try to do it during my free time at the school so that I can get extra time to study at home. Once you don’t procrastinate with your school work, you will never be stressed. So I do all my school work as soon as I get it and it takes off the pressure. Balancing sports and school work is not easy but I am trying and so far it has been okay.
The VOICE: Describe your proudest moment to date.
Charlemagne: When I represented Saint Lucia at the Carifta Games and CISC come close, especially when I was called to the starting blocks in the finals.
The VOICE: Have your parents always been supportive in your sporting activities?
Charlemagne: yes, they have always been. They encourage me to do my best at all times. They also tell me that they love me no matter what the outcome of a race. My mother always tells me that my competition is the last time I posted and that my character is more important than winning a race.
The VOICE: What about you future aspirations? Do you see yourself competing at the FINA World Championship, the Olympic Games, etc.?
Charlemagne: I hope to one day represent Saint Lucia at the Olympic Games. I would like to also participate in the Junior Olympics and FINA World Championships.
The VOICE: Do you have a plan to fulfill these dreams?
Charlemagne: My plan to fulfill these dreams is that I will continue to listen to my coaches and train harder.
The VOICE: Many athletes talk about their heroes. Who are your heroes and what do you admire most about them?
Charlemagne: I don’t think I have heroes. There are people I admire because of their discipline and dedication. My mother is one of them. There are also a few swimmers whom I admire, for example, Naima Hazell, because she never gives up. Also Naekeisha Louis because she has never allowed any challenge to prevent her from doing her best. Mikaela Casimir is in form 5 at St. Joseph’s Convent and she continues to swim and be at all practice sessions even though she has a lot a school work to do. To me that is really admirable. There are others, but these three swimmers stand out.
The VOICE: Finally, what words of advice or encouragement do you have for younger athletes?
Charlemagne: I would tell young swimmers to set goals and decide what they need to do to achieve these goals. Decide what will prevent them from achieving their goals and try their best to eliminate those distractions. There are many distractions and they cannot allow themselves to be distracted. Also, do not procrastinate. Do your best effort at all times. Do not allow challenges to prevent you from achieving your goals. Use disappointments as motivation. Listen to your coaches and follow instructions. Put God first.