We were fortunate to have had the honor of interviewing Summer Olympics hopeful and Micro Games medalist, Giordan Harris of the Marshall Islands.
The 21 year old swimmer totaled 10 medals during the recent Micro Games in Pohnpei, including 3 silvers and 7 bronze medals.
GH = Giordan Harris
TFB = The Fourth Branch
TFB: We'd like to thank you for this opportunity. To start things off why don't you introduce yourself to the readers. Let's start with your background: What island are you from? Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
GH: I am from the Republic of the Marshall Islands. I grew up on Ebeye, one of the poorest and most populated islands of the Marshall Islands. I have been to about 6 different high schools, but the main places I went to school were on my home, Ebeye and also on Kwajalein, a neighboring U.S. military base.
TFB: How was your recent Micro Games experience?
GH: My Micro Games experience was unforgettable. I always think my swim meets are an amazing experience, but when I win 10 medals, that just makes the meet that much more special for me.
TFB: When you weren't competing, how did you pass the time?
GH: When I wasn’t competing in Phonpei, I was either resting, or going out and seeing the island, going to beaches, taking tours, going to waterfalls, having fun.
TFB: What was the most memorable part of the Games for you?
GH: The most memorable part of the games for me, is a little hard, I don’t think there was a specific moment but if I had to choose, there are 10, each time I was on the medal stand representing my home.
TFB: How did you get into swimming?
GH: I’ve told this story many times over and I enjoy telling it. I started swimming around 3rd grade when my best friend joined the swim team, and he enjoyed it. He convinced me to swim. So I did, and when I started, I was terrible. But I fell in love with the water and stuck to it. I rode that wave to where I am today.
TFB: What was your first major swimming competition? What was it like and how did you do?
GH: My first major swimming competition was at the 2005 South Pacific Mini Games held in Palau. It was a great and game changing experience. This was the first time I got to see other islanders swim and they were great swimmers. I went in as the youngest swimmer, I think I was around 12 years old. And watching these older islanders swim so fast and win medals just amazed me and intrigued me. I wanted to do the same.
TFB: Why do you choose to do what you do?
GH: I choose to swim because it’s probably one of the most difficult and most underrated sports. But if you ask any athlete they say that the sport they play is the hardest. But just looking at certain things like practice to performance ratio, swimmers work the hardest of any sport. My main race is only 50 meters long, but in a normal training day, I swim anywhere between 10,000-15,000 meters a day. With additional running and weight training. No other sport does the amount of work a swimmer does and I guess I like that. Practices get so difficult and painful, and seemingly impossible, and making it through those make me feel like I can get through anything in life. I just love it.
TFB: What matters to you most, and how does that motivate you in your training?
GH: I think my personal best times matter most to me in swimming. And that’s also what motivates me. No one gets into a sport to be average. Everyone wants to be great, everyone wants to be amazing, and everyone wants to be a legend. So I always aim for personal bests, it lets me know that I’m progressing and getting faster and faster.
TFB: Where do you train and how do you think the facilities in the RMI hold up with other facilities in other countries?
GH: Right now I’m in Iowa going to college and swimming on the team here. I also happen to be team captain. I don’t train much at home because there aren’t any pools on my island. The nearest pool is on Kwajalein on the military base, and it’s difficult to gain access to that pool.
TFB: Compared to other sports, is swimming a popular sport in the Marshall Islands?
GH: Compared to other sports swimming is practically invisible. Basketball is the biggest sport for men and now softball is coming up. Swimming has yet to get as popular. But swimming has come along. Until about 2012 I was the only Marshallese swimmer from the islands, and training in the islands. Since then we have improved the Marshall Islands swim federation and even expanded the team, from just me, to maybe around 20 kids. So swimming has come far, but still has much farther to go. And that’s my goal, to inspire the youth and let them know that there are more options available for sports and that they have a realistic chance at getting a scholarship in swimming.
TFB: Is swimming a full time thing?
GH: Swimming is a full time thing for me. I split it with school. Between the two, I have no time for anything else. I swim year round, the only time off I have gotten in the last year was a week for Christmas, and 2 weeks for summer, that’s about it. I think if I add up the hours I train, it may be equal to the hours of school.
TFB: Do you follow a strict diet, and is it easy to maintain a swimmer’s diet in the RMI?
GH: I do follow a strict diet, I have been working with my coach and taking nutrition classes to learn more and more about what my body needs to fuel itself, and the best sorts of food to properly fuel my body. When I’m home in the RMI it’s extremely difficult for me to follow my usual diet. Being such a small island and not having many fresh fruits and fresh foods available, it’s hard. Especially with the amount of white rice, fried and canned foods consumed. And none of those are supposed to be in my athlete's diet.
TFB: What do you think about the future of swimming in the Marshall Islands?
GH: The future of RMI swimming is very bright. Swimming can go really far if we keep expanding the RMI swim federation, and keep getting kids interested in swimming. The more we promote, and the more kids want to swim, the better the federation gets.
TFB: What are your future goals? (Micro Games, Pacific Games, Summer Olympics).
GH: Future goals? I have many. I would like to qualify for the summer Olympics in Rio 2016. Another goal is to become the first RMI and first South Pacific swimmer to win a medal at a World Swim Meet.
TFB: Take us through your daily routine as an athlete. From waking up, diet, going to train and practice...
GH: Daily routine as an athlete, for the most part it’s exactly the same day to day.
- 5am wake up.
- 530-730 am Morning Swim practice.
- 730-8am breakfast (3 egg omelet with fresh veggies).
- 8am-12pm Classes.
- 12-130 lunch (fresh fruit and a protein shake).
- 2pm-430pm Afternoon swim practice.
- 430-6pm weight training/ extra cardio (running).
- 6-7 dinner (usually chicken breast with fresh veggies).
- 7-930 homework, if none, the rest and relax, stretch and watch TV.
- 930-10 sleep and prepare to repeat.
TFB: Take us through the moment of an event. When you’re waiting to be called to the pool, do you have a routine? When you’re on the blocks bracing to dive what goes through your mind? When you’re in the pool what do you think of?
GH: The moments before I swim are horrible. People will tell you they aren’t but EVERYBODY gets nervous before they race. If they say they don’t, they are lying. But it’s best to try and remain calm. We sit and wait to be called, at this point I’m listening to music and visualizing my race. And then we get called up and we walk out to the pool, this is when the crowd sees you and you wave and hear all the screaming people. Once I stand behind the blocks, we get prepared to race. Before I step up on the blocks, I slap myself repeatedly on the major muscle groups, people say that this ‘wakes the muscles up’. Then I step on the block and wait for the go. At this point I try to keep my mind clear, and not focus on anything and not think about anything. If I’m thinking too much about something, it makes me nervous and I'll preform worse. And once I’m in the pool, I don’t think, it’s all just pure instinct, swim fast. Every one of my races flies by and I can never recall any part other than the dive. Even my long swims that last 5 minutes seem to have gone by in a few seconds.
TFB: If you weren’t swimming what would you be doing instead?
GH: If I wasn’t swimming. I’m sure I’d be playing basketball in the islands, or just a bum at home [laughs].