Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate to compete in the triple jump in the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London, Alexander Koenig reports for Harvard’s The Crimson.
A hop, skip, and a jump. An exceptional ability to do those three things in rapid succession, and over large distances, has made Samyr Laine ’06 an elite athlete. It made Laine an All-American in the triple jump in 2005, and it compelled him to defer a number of job offers from elite law firms after earning his J.D. from Georgetown.
Six years after graduating, it has landed Laine a spot in this summer’s Olympic Games. But despite his atheltics accomplishments heading into London, it is his story that makes him one of the media darlings of the upcoming Olympics.
Laine, born and raised in New York, will be representing his parents’ home nation of Haiti, and has a chance to unify a country torn apart by the devastating 2010 earthquake and the opportunity to earn the nation’s first individual medal since Silvio Cator took a silver in the 1928 Amsterdam Games.
Laine has also garnered national headlines because of the man with whom he shared his Straus D-11 suite back in 2002 and 2003. Mark E.
Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook—Laine was user number 14 on the site—lived with the Olympic athlete during their freshman year.
But Laine’s story, both at Harvard and elsewhere, is compelling beyond the confines of that fateful dorm room.
Laine, who eventually served as the co-captain of the Crimson track and field team, did not make his high school roster as a freshman at Newburgh Academy. Competing as a middle-distance runner in 7th and 8th grade, he was cut in 1998, prompting a switch to tennis.
But Michael Johnson’s performance in the 200 and 400 meters at the 2000 Sydney Olympics inspired Laine to return to the track, this time as a jumper.
“Seeing Michael Johnson doing his thing really got me back into it,” Laine said. “Since then, it’s just been hard work. I don’t want to give it up; it’s the general pursuit of excellence.”
The return proved successful. Laine became an elite high-school athlete and was recruited by a number of colleges, choosing Harvard and matriculating in the fall of 2002.
THE “THREE STOOGES”
Once with the Crimson, Laine began a collegiate career that saw him set indoor and outdoor triple jump school records.
His fellow jumpers in the class of 2006, after finishing their careers at Harvard, remain life-long friends.
“We referred to ourselves as the ‘Triumvirate’ and the ‘Three Stooges,’” said Travis Hughes ’06, a former long and triple-jumper who is now a Houston-based attorney. “Sam, Lawrence [Adjah ’06], and I became very close, which makes sense considering the fact that we ran, worked out, and jumped together every day for eight months out of the year for four years.”
Adjah and Laine were co-captains their senior year, and after graduation, both went to the University of Texas to compete as graduate students, with Laine receiving a degree in kinesiology-sports management.
“The team and support I got while I was in Austin sort of bridged the time between Harvard, Law School, and being a professional track and field athlete,” Laine said. “It really gave me the boost I need.”
In the summer after starting Law School at Washington University in St. Louis, Hughes moved out to Austin with his former teammates. In the years since Laine began his international track and field career, ‘The Three Stooges’ have been there every step of the way.
Adjah, Laine’s blockmate at Harvard, will be traveling to London to cheer Laine on.
“They’ve always been encouraging me, keeping my head high and pushing me to do better and be the best I can be,” Laine said. “As far as support goes, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Laine said that his time at Harvard helped him develop the work ethic necessary to balance his studies after college at Georgetown Law School with his budding professional athletic career.
Though his primary goal is to increase visibility and provide support for Haiti, Laine sees his experience as a teaching moment for young people in America as well.
“I feel like I’m on a selfless mission. Even though I have my own aspirations, this is for the country of Haiti,” Laine said. “But even for people in the United States who feel like athletic and academic success can’t go hand-in-hand, I hope there are young people out there who see my story and no longer think that that is the case.”
Laine’s work ethic and selflessness become clear in his personal interactions. He has a self-imposed policy of personally responding to every email sent to his website. On his YouTube account, Laine responds to every comment, often giving young athletes work-out advice and handling snarky internet commenters with grace.
“His being in London is not a fluke,” Hughes said. “He’s a legit athlete, and he’s a great guy.”
HAITIAN AT HEART
Among the curiosities of Laine’s Olympic campaign is the fact that he is competing for Haiti—a nation he had never visited until he was 26.
But Laine grew up speaking Creole at home. While at Harvard, he was heavily involved with both the Caribbean Club and the Harvard-Haitian Alliance, engaging with the sizeable Haitian community in the greater Boston area.
“I would say it was more like a Haitian raised in the U.S., rather than an American choosing to compete with Haiti,” Laine said.
Throughout Laine’s childhood, he added, his mother feared returning to the nation that had caused so much suffering for the family.
But after a deadly earthquake struck Haiti two years ago, Laine felt compelled to reconnect with his family’s nation of origin and commit himself to improving the lives of his fellow Haitians.
“After the earthquake happened, and at 26 years old, there’s not much my mother could do,” Laine said. “As a Haitian-American, the culture has always been near and dear to me.”
Laine hopes that his Olympic pursuits will help lead to better athletic facilities in Haiti, giving children there the same opportunities he had to improve at his craft and compete internationally.
Leaving Law School as a very successful student Laine has been presented with a number of job opportunities, almost all of which would be more lucrative than what he is currently doing—an important consideration, especially because he is still paying off student loans.
“I’ve had moments of wavering commitment, but they’ve been few and far between,” Laine said. “There have been opportunities that were hard to pass up, but those will be there in the future. Right now, I have an incredible opportunity to do what I love while being able to talk about Haiti and Haitian athletics. It’s all just to inspire.”
But Laine is not just going to London to serve as a mascot for a recovering Haiti. He fully intends to compete and figures to have a shot at landing on the podium.
“I’m prepared, I’m very prepared,” Laine said. “I’m just trying to approach it like business as usual.”
When he gets to London, he will have never faced tougher competition. But Laine will have a committed group of friends, family, and a nation looking for a hero in his corner.
“I know that he’s going to do great things, not only on the track, but especially for Haiti,” Hughes said.