Alexus Laird: US-based swimming newcomer who won 3 golds for Seychelles at the Indian Ocean Games
Alexus Laird won 7 medals during the 9th Indian Ocean Island Games, 3 of which were gold. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Team Seychelles won 25 gold medals at the 9th Indian Ocean Island Games [IOIG] held in Reunion, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean, from August 1 to 9.
Three of the gold medals were won by the newest member of the Seychelles national swimming team in the 50 metre, 100 metre and 200 metre backstroke events.
The 22-year-old, US-born Alexus Laird made her debut in the competition this year and with it broke three of the games and national records.
SNA met up with the relatively unknown new star at the swimming pool at Roche Caiman, on the outskirts of the Seychelles capital of Victoria before one of her training sessions.
Laird who lost her mother at the age of four talks about her ties to Seychelles, her passion for swimming and plans for the future.
|Alexus Laird won triple gold at her first Indian Ocean Island Games representing Seychelles. (Patrick Joubert, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
SNA: What are your ties to Seychelles and where were you born?
AL: My mother, Angela Beier, was Seychellois and she lived in the Seychelles for most of her life. Then her family sent her to school in Germany so that she could have a better education and that is where she met my dad, he was in the US Air Force. From there they left for the US where I was born [that almost happened in Germany].
I have other close relatives here in Seychelles. My uncle, James Beier (my mother’s brother) played basketball in the Seychelles and then there is the Grandcourt family. My Seychellois families mostly reside in the north of Mahe: North East Point and Beau Vallon to be more precise. Captain Pierre Grandcourt is my uncle.
SNA: You lost your mother at a very early age, how did you cope with it?
AL: It happened when I was four; we had just been to the Seychelles and then several months later, the doctors found a lump on her neck and when they did a biopsy they found out it was a lymph node. They accidentally grabbed the wrong vein and from there things started to go downhill as she started bleeding. At the time I didn’t understand what was happening. A year after her death, my dad got married again, mostly because there was a woman whom I really liked and I got along with her really well. She has been the motherly figure in my life. My step mother came to my competition in Reunion Island...I must say that she is very supportive and my family here in Seychelles is also very supportive of her.
SNA: How often do you visit families in Seychelles? What is typical day like for you; what do you do?
AL: I was here visiting last year, and that is how I started making the connections here. Before that I haven’t been here to see my grandmother and everyone else here since I was 13 [that was 8 years ago]. It is really hard to come to the Seychelles from the US since I cost thousands of dollars; it’s even more expensive during summer holidays when I’m not in school because it’s peak season [for airlines]....My Seychellois family doesn’t come to the US so I don’t get to see them very much.
When I do visit though, I usually stay with my uncle Pierre at Beau Vallon or at my aunt’s Julia’s place. Most of the time you will see me in the swimming pool at Roche Caiman where I train religiously twice a day, sometimes I’m at the Beau Vallon beach where I usually meet friends and relax. I also make sure to take care of business here so that when I’m gone, everything is taken care of. This week I will be taking part in the training camp where I will be doing talks with the kids, mostly about dedication, motivation and what you need to do to be the best in swimming.
SNA: What are you doing in life at the moment?
AL: I’ve been in the university for 4 years [Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis] doing a double major in accounting and finance. Right now I’m doing my last semester so I will be done in December after which I’ll be sitting for the Certified Public Accountant [CPA] exam. That will take roughly around 8 months; there will be 4 exams and I will be studying in between each one.
Swimming wise, I just finished my four-year swimming scholarship with the university and soon will be joining the Carmel Swim Club, which is one of the top five swimming facilities in the US. They train some really good swimmers.
SNA: What led you to swimming? How long have you been doing it?
AL: I was put into swimming when I was 6. I liked it from the very start; even at that level I got to take part in small competitions, kind of like the kids do here. Then when I was in what you would call A-levels[high school] here, I got a little bit faster and I was able to get a scholarship to go to university, based on my swimming. At the university I swam for my school as I got a pretty decent scholarship and that is basically what I have been doing for the past four years.
SNA: Who are you sporting heroes and how do they inspire you?
AL: There are some people close to me. There is one of my really close friends; she swam with me at the university. She was way better than me when I was younger. She has been my competition, but it was a healthy one because we wanted each other to do well when we raced and if we beat one another we were happy [for each other]. I haven’t met many people like that.
SNA: Did you swim competitively for a club, school or university?
AL: Right now I’m kind of in transition period because I was swimming for my university and now I’m joining the Carmel Swim Club. We went to Doha for World Championships in December and they wouldn’t let me rest for the competition because it wasn’t part of my university schedule. So it’s nice now because I can be on the same schedule as people here and swim in competition seriously.
SNA: What events do you swim? What is your specialty?
AL: I mainly swim backstrokes and sprint freestyles. I’m best at the 50-metre backstroke but that’s not an Olympics event. I’ve been trying to broaden my events but through university they had me training only freestyle and backstroke. I just started training the other strokes in February [I haven’t been training them for four years]. It was really hard!
SNA: What competitions have you taken part in before the Indian Ocean Island Games (IOIG)?
AL: Before I went to Reunion Island, I swam the 200-metres Individual Medley [IM] at the FINA World Championships in Kazan. I had a best time but it was really nerve racking to swim one of my worst events. The 200 IM for me is pretty hard because you have to swim all four strokes.
|The US born is strongest in the backstroke event in which she established three new IOIG records. ( Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
SNA: How did you find out about the IOIG?
AL: I have been in contact with Kenny Roberts [well known former Seychellois comeptitive swimmer] for about two to three years before I came last year but the problem was that I didn’t have my Seychellois passport, so the committee could not invest money in me until I technically had it. My family had to pay for me to come here and things started to fall into place from there.
SNA: How would you describe your participation in the competition and representing Seychelles?
AL: I was very happy with it even if there were strokes that I had only started training. For those events, I went in with an open mind and was happy with my results. I wasn’t expecting big things from my off events but to see that I did very well in my good events was very exciting. I had lots of best times and records. It was an honor to represent Seychelles and I was really glad that I could make everyone proud.
SNA: Was it hard to stay focused during the competition? What would you say kept you motivated?
AL: Not really because I have this really big idea that I can be really great and I never want to think that I didn’t do everything I could to be the best. I don’t want to look back and think that I could have done better, in every sense of the word. I always give a 100% to achieve my goals. So it’s basically swimming over all other things.
SNA: Do you have any specific competitions coming up?
AL: I have lots of goals: All-Africa Games, I really want to qualify for the Olympics. I want to actually qualify and not go on a wild card and that’s one of my biggest goals right now. Depending on what competition it happens at, it is just my highest goal right now.
SNA: So if you make it to the Olympics, which country would you represent?
AL: [Without any hesitation] The Seychelles!
SNA: What steps do you take to prepare for competition? Can you describe a typical day of training?
AL: I train twice a day every day for the whole year. Four times a week I also do weight lifting, so on those days I swim in the morning, then lift in the afternoon and swim for two hours right after that. Recently I’ve been running just to get my overall endurance back up. I don’t take a month off, not even a week.
|Talented swimmer Alexus Laird aspires to become a partner at Ernst and Young accounting firm. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
SNA: What are your plans for the future? Are you planning on working in Seychelles after your studies?
AL: After I get my CPA license, I have to work in the US for two years but it doesn’t matter when I do it, so I can come here. That depends on a lot of factors and I’ve talked to my family about this, so it will be a decision made by all of us if I come here, but it has definitely been talked about.
SNA: Will we be seeing you in the next IOIG?
AL: Yes, I will be swimming for the next 5 years and I’ll be 27 when I quit. I am more than willing to do that.
SNA: What would you like to achieve in life?
AL: Apart from the swimming related achievements I would really like to work at Ernst and Young which is a big accounting firm. I’ve talked to them and actually have a job opportunity there. When they came to my school they interviewed me and they have been in contact with me. Hopefully after five years of working with them I can become a partner.