Imagine trying to balance the rigorous demands of being a full-time law student and a professional triple jumper simultaneously. As ridiculous as it sounds, that had been the life of recent Georgetown University Law Center graduate Samyr Laine for the past 3 years. The 26-year-old, Newburgh, New York native undertook this seemingly impossible challenge and redefined what it means to be a student-athlete.
Laine's collegiate track and field career began at Harvard University, where he earned All-American honors in the triple jump event and set Ivy League records at the time. He also managed to improve his jump over 7 feet (2.15m) over the span of his collegiate career.
However, Laine's decorated career at Harvard was cut short when he suffered an injury during his senior year. He would ultimately redshirt to preserve his final outdoor season. Following graduation, he enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Texas in 2007, where he used up his final year of collegiate eligibility.
In pursuing his next educational aspiration of becoming a lawyer, he decided that dropping the triple jump to focus entirely on law school simply wasn't an option. He was confident that he could juggle his scholastic ambitions with his athletic dreams, as he had already succeeded in doing at both Harvard and Texas. This time, though, the challenge would be ratcheted up another notch—it was professional school and the professional track and field circuit.
Not only did Laine emerge as a Juris Doctor with an offer of full-time employment from a New York law firm, but the former Harvard All-American has made quite a splash triple jumping on the international stage, where he has been representing Haiti. Although Laine was born in the United States, both of his parents emigrated from Haiti. He has competed as a member of the Haitian National Team in numerous events including the 2009 Bogotá International Grand Prix, the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Berlin, Germany, and the 2010 World Indoor Championships in Doha, Qatar. During law school, he also set personal bests in both indoor (16.48m) and outdoor (17.39m).
With his days of briefing cases behind him, Laine has turned his attention to focus on triple jumping for now. He has been training intensely this summer to prepare for the Central American & Caribbean Games in Puerto Rico, which he represented Haiti in this week and earned a bronze medal. He jumped a 17.01m, a season best performance.
Now that Laine has taken a hiatus from the juggling act, at least for now, and he can concentrate solely on his track and field career, he is on the verge of becoming an elite triple jumper and his goal of qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games in London seems well within reach.
AA: How have you managed to always have tremendous success as a student-athlete?
Samyr Laine: As horribly cliché as it sounds, I've got to say that my success as a student-athlete can only be credited to my parents. Not only is my desire to constantly strive for more a product of what they taught me, but there was actually a time in high school when they pulled me from the track team because of a slight drop in my grades. At that point, I was essentially forced to learn that if I wanted to have the best of both worlds, I had to work equally hard on academics and athletics in order to get all that I could out of both. Since then, it's just been about knowing that the hard work was something that just had to be done.
AA: How did you balance being a full-time law student at Georgetown with being a professional track athlete?
Samyr Laine: Initially it was with a lot of sleepless nights, as the first few months of law school are as peculiar an academic experience as people say, particularly compared to undergrad or other graduate schools. Starting in my first weeks of law school though, it wasn't just about time management, but about staying ahead of the curve. I had my books with me everywhere I went, and would knock out reading assignments whenever I could. In the process, I made sure that I was at least a week ahead of the syllabus in each class and kept detailed notes of every reading assignment. That way, not only was creating an outline for finals relatively easy, but I started my outlining extra early (end of October) so that I wasn't stressing in December and had ample time to review. By making things as easy on myself as possible with school, I was able to sneak at least a couple hours of training a day in order to escape the books. There wasn't really too much time for much else aside from training and school, although I also helped coach the George Mason University track team a few days a week. Once I got the hang of what professors/classes required, I could make some shortcuts for myself and free up a little more free time that way, which mostly meant more sleep which is great.
AA: Where did you find the motivation to undertake such a challenge?
Samyr Laine: A large part of the motivation came from knowing that law school and succeeding in law school was just something that had to be done considering where I saw myself after school and after I'm done with athletics. Not to mention the fact that my grandmother and great grandmother have been waiting for some time now for me to "be a lawyer." The other thing is that after I'd finished competing for the University of Texas, I knew that there was so much more I could do in the triple jump. I felt that I could improve a great deal more and I wasn't interested in stopping until I'd maximized my potential. So I figured I would at least see if I could survive the first year of law school while training and if I could, I would compete until I graduated and see how much I could improve along the way.
AA: What was the toughest aspect of this unique student-athlete arrangement?
Samyr Laine: The toughest part of it all was the fact that unlike in college or when I was at Texas, I was the only person continuing to compete in athletics. Not only did the professors not really care what I had going on outside of the classroom, but neither did the grading curve. Though I never had to take advantage of it, professors in college tended to understand when you have a competition from Thursday to Sunday and might have to turn your paper in on Monday afternoon as opposed to first thing Monday morning. It's of course a different story in law school. For example, in the spring of my first year, my legal writing class gave us a 10-day final exam that required researching and writing a legal brief. Because of competitions I had on the two weekends before and after the exam, I had to pick it up late and finish it within about 3 days before heading to the next meet, where I knew I wasn't going to be able to do any research or focus on it at all. Still, the quality of my exam had to match that of other students who had a bit more time because we're all on the same curve, regardless of the fact that I took 3 days rather than 10 to do my exam. Likewise, taking red eye flights on Sunday nights after competing the same day because of a Monday class with mandatory attendance isn't much fun.
AA: Run us through your training routine and how you have managed to fit it in a law student's schedule.
Samyr Laine: Well I tended to pick classes in a manner that allowed me to have at least 2 or 3 free hours in the morning or afternoon. So even though it depended on where I was in the season, Monday, Wednesday and Friday/Saturday were usually weight room or explosive days. I was usually in there for about an hour and a half and tended to have stuff on the track immediately afterwards. If I had afternoon classes, I would get my workout in before class and sometimes go straight to class after working out. If classes were in the morning, then I would just work out in the evening.
Tuesday and/or Thursday were my speed and jumping days. Whenever I do a jumping and technique specific workout, I meet up with my coach. So he would be really good about picking a day to meet up when I didn't have class in the afternoon and could get about 2 hours of quality training in. My sprinting days were similar to the weight room days in that I would try and sneak to the track in the portion of the day when I didn't have class. There were times when I had to be in the weight room by 6:30 or 7am or on the track at 8pm because class ran through the entire day, especially during the first year when I had no real choice in making my schedule.
AA: How did you handle the disappointment of redshirting for your final outdoor season at Harvard as the team captain?
Samyr Laine: That was really tough on two levels: first because I hadn't dealt with an injury like that before and second because my team had elected me as team captain and I wasn't even able to help them out in competition or lead by example. I had to come to terms relatively quickly with the fact that the way for me to lead was by trying to still encourage and motivate people on the team. And a huge part of that was by going to practices even though I wasn't taking part in them and by being supportive of the guys both in training and certainly during competitions.
AA: What advice would you give to a young track athlete in selecting a college team?
Samyr Laine: Perhaps the most important piece of advice I could give is to not make it entirely about the track team. Make sure you're going to be getting the academic and social experience you want by exploring professors and classes and trying to mix, mingle and talk to current students. At the end of the day, if you're not enjoying things outside of the track, your performance on the track will no doubt suffer. On top of that, make sure that you have a coach who you feel is knowledgeable and interested in your progress. There is no substitute for a coach who knows their stuff and is willing to do what it takes to make sure that you improve. You'll benefit a great deal from it and you'll of course enjoy the fact that you're getting better than you were in high school.
AA: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment in your track career so far?
Samyr Laine: I consider being an All-American during my junior year as my greatest accomplishment. It was my first meet at that level and no one, especially my competitors who kept cracking jokes, really expected a Harvard athlete to have any success. In qualifying, I set a new conference/school record and was one of the top qualifiers to the second day where I finished 7th. I jumped the best two jumps of my career to that point at that meet. What made it even sweeter was that I had injured my hamstring pretty badly just a couple weeks prior and went into qualifying set on taking just one jump because it still hurt a good bit when I ran down the runway.
AA: Describe your experience representing Haiti as a member of the Haitian National Team.
Samyr Laine: Representing Haiti has definitely been a blessing. My first time competing on the team was at the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio and the experience of meeting people and having teammates who seemed invested in my success was great. After collegiate athletics you're really on your own in track and field, so having teammates feels great, even though I only had one teammate with me at the past two World Championships. It is also extremely motivating to be representing a country that appreciates your performances, and of course, that is the case now more than ever given January's tragedy. I often remind myself that I'm no longer just competing for myself or my family, but for the country as a whole, and I try and think of what a medal at a major international competition could mean.
AA: What did it feel like to come so close to qualifying for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, hitting a 54-10 when you needed a 55 feet?
Samyr Laine: It felt horrible. I felt as if everything I had worked for the entire year was a waste. And watching the Olympics felt even worse, especially since I had been so close. To be honest though, I got over the disappointment rather quickly. My friends, family and even co-workers at the time, helped me put things in perspective. Not only was I working full-time at a law firm throughout the summer as I attempted to qualify, but I had just completed my first year of law school while training. On top of that, I was still competing at a level at or above where I was before that year and it was just my first year with my new coach. At that point, I was ready to get back to work and come back better, faster, stronger and more experienced.
AA: What is your assessment of your performance at the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Berlin, Germany where you came in 16th place?
Samyr Laine: Acknowledging that hindsight is 20/20, I can say that it wasn't a horrible performance...and by that I mean it was "ok." The experience was different than anything I had had before in terms of the crowd and even the way competition was structured. Although my 17.39m performance from a couple weeks prior would have placed top 5 I believe, I can live with just getting that experience under my belt so that at the 2011 Outdoor Championships there's no shock and I can focus entirely on jumping far as possible as if it were any other meet.
AA: In April, you came in first at the 52 Annual Mt. SAC Relays in California with a 16.92m performance. Were you satisfied with your jumps at the meet?
Samyr Laine: I was very satisfied with my performance at Mt. Sac. It was my opening meet for the outdoor season and I'd changed a couple of things after the indoor season, so I was anxious to try them out and start getting a competition rhythm down. On top of that, the jump lets me know that things are going well and I now know where I can improve. 16.92m is my 2nd best performance ever and to open the season like that was extremely encouraging.
AA: What are your goals for the remainder of the 2010 season? Career?
Samyr Laine: I have a ton of goals both for this season and beyond, but the most important ones for this year are to stay healthy, improve my personal best (even if it's by one centimeter), win the Central American and Caribbean Games in Puerto Rico later this month and to be consistently above 16.90m or so.
For my athletic career overall, I want to finish at least top five in at least one World Championships and win an Olympic medal in London in 2012. For my "career career," I want to ultimately find a way to combine my passion and experience in sports (and my sports management degree) with my legal background. The details on how I'll do that exactly are still in the works I suppose.
AA: What factors led you to select Renaldo Nehemiah as your agent?
Samyr Laine: What made the decision easiest was that Renaldo was actually interested in and believed in my talent as an athlete. I admittedly spoke to several agents following my improvement last season, but Renaldo made the most effort to let me know that he was interested in working with me. On top of that, I liked the roster of athletes that he had at the time and also how he and the company he works for (Octagon) do business.
AA: Have you been able to secure any endorsements being on the professional circuit?
Samyr Laine: Unfortunately, the economy has been particularly unkind to us track and field athletes. I don't have any endorsements YET, but we're definitely looking and working hard to land one to help me on my way to London and perhaps beyond.
AA: You have a slickly-designed website. How has your presence on the internet and involvement with social media influenced your career?
It has definitely allowed me to gain more exposure with less effort. I've had people contact me via the contact page on my site, or follow me on Twitter
, which is definitely encouraging since people seem to be interested in my progress and what I have to say for some reason. In any case, it's always good to do a little self-marketing and improve "brand exposure," because as an individual athlete it is almost like I'm my own brand and thus have to market myself to sponsors and the like.
AA: What is on the horizon now that you are a law school graduate? Do you plan on pursuing a dual career as a lawyer and a professional athlete?
Samyr Laine: Now that I've graduated, I'm going to compete and train throughout the summer, which is the main and most important part of the professional track season. I have a job offer from a law firm in NY, but our start date has been deferred until the fall of 2011. So, I have another year to continue training, competing and exploring the limits of what my body can do. During that year, I'll be taking the bar exam in February in anticipation of my career as an attorney and simply because we can't start work at the firm without doing so. With that said, if things are going as well as planned next year and I have a sponsor or some means of supporting myself once the year is up, I may be forced to ask my firm to let me start after the 2012 Games since I don't even want to attempt being a lawyer and professional athlete at the same time. Considering how hard they work at those big NY law firms, I know that it wouldn't be anything like simultaneously being a law school student and professional athlete.
For more information about Samyr Laine, you can visit his website at www.SamyrLaine.com and check out his triple jumping video channel. On behalf of Access Athletes, we would like to thank Samyr for taking time out of his busy schedule to do an interview with The Real Athlete Blog.