By Eddie Kerekes, Class of 2020
When first-year swimmer Laila Michel’s father first told her the news, she thought he was joking. Michel, then in high school, could not believe she would be going to the Haitian embassy in Washington, D.C., to secure dual citizenship in Haiti and the United States—the first step to competing for the Haitian national swimming team.
Michel’s dad, who is from Haiti, had reached out over social media to Naomy Grand’Pierre, the first female swimmer to compete at the Olympics from the island nation of approximately 11 million people. Grand’Pierre reviewed Michel’s best times in the pool, which were fast enough to make the national team, and recommended the future Spartan begin the process of joining Haiti in future competitions.
Since then, the Maryland native has competed for Haiti at the Caribbean Free Trade Association Swimming Championships last April and at the Central American and Caribbean Swimming Championships in July, both in Barbados.
“Those [international meets] are a lot of fun,” Michel said. “Great music, great food. And everyone is really, really fast.”
Michel, who started swimming competitively when she was 5 years old, competes for the Spartans’ swimming & diving team in her first year at Case Western Reserve University, primarily in the butterfly and freestyle strokes.
Outside of the pool, Michel, one of the first African American swimmers in program history, joined the Black Student Union and the African American Society and hopes to serve on the executive board of one or both of the groups next academic year. A cognitive science and international studies double major, she is exploring different career options and majors, including marketing and public relations.
“[Being a student-athlete] makes me a better student. It forces me to have good time-management skills,” she said.
Members of the swimming and diving team have helped ease Michel’s transition to collegiate life at Case Western Reserve, as “everyone was really nice and welcoming.” The first-year swimmers eat dinner together almost every day, and the whole team eats together after practice regularly. The team’s training trip to Florida over winter break brought Michel even closer to the other members of the squad. They bonded over the tough training schedule, which includes practices as early as 6 a.m., and she enjoys having a community of people she can recognize around campus.
At the end of April, Michel hopes to compete in the Puerto Rico International Swimming Open for Haiti. Later this year, the Haitian team hopes to send two swimmers—its best male and female—to the Tokyo Olympics.
Before embarking on another international journey, Michel answered our five questions.
1. What’s your favorite restaurant in Cleveland?
It may sound basic, but I really like the Cheesecake Factory. I’ve gone to Melt and Mia Bella in Little Italy, and those were good as well.
2. What’s the most difficult class you’ve ever taken?
Any math class. I’ve taken two math classes so far, and they were relatively easy, but I’m really bad at math.
3. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you pick?
I would love to live in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
4. What famous person—alive or deceased—would you most like to meet?
I would love to meet Zendaya. I’ve been a fan of hers since [her appearance in] Kidz Bop when I was 11 years old.
5. What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
The food. I just discovered the Performance Bowls station in Tomlinson Hall and the Health Education Kitchen. The food is so good and everything is a regular meal swipe. I got so much food for a regular meal swipe; it was awesome.