On a Friday afternoon on the cusp of sunset, I was greeted by the sweet music blaring from a nondescript location with a simple, painted sign ‘Laura’s Food Hut’. As I drove onto the compound, a vibrant, charming woman introduced herself to me as Laura. We quickly settled into our conversation as I had been trying to arrange a meeting for several months without success.
Laura Pierre, 62, spent 40 years living in the USA. She holds two Masters’ degrees in Education and Leadership, as well as Organisational Systems Renewal Consultancy. In 2012, she returned to Trinidad and held a key advisory position with the then Minister of Sport Dr Rupert Griffith.
She is sharp, witty and extremely grounded. Laura recalls her early childhood with her ten siblings, running around a makeshift track they had built behind their house. According to her mother Veronica Pierre, 87, and visiting from the US, “Laura made everything into a competition.”
I was deeply engaged during our time together as Laura described her early beginnings in athletics with her club, Abeline Wildcats. She alluded to the extremely supportive role of her family and her coaches that led to her representing her country for the first time at age 12; being awarded an athletic scholarship to study in the US; her establishing a track club, LP Eagles; and her involvement with youth in at-risk communities.
What Laura Pierre never mentioned during the entire interview was how she became the first woman to represent Trinidad and Tobago in the 1972 Olympic Games, and that for me made a great story!
Here are the top five highlights of my conversation with the first female Olympian Laura Pierre:
“Track and field became my life, I was always driven, motivated and had the support of my family and coaches.
I started at the age of eight, grew up in Arima, and the big club at the time was the Abeline Wildcats. I would practise morning and afternoon, and I included weight training as I got older. Coaches like Cecil Walker, Earl John and Brandon Bailey were very knowledgeable and really nurtured me. The club was like my extended family.”
“My first experience with the national team came at such an early age, it never fazed me, I just wanted to compete and I enjoyed it.
There was a lot of excitement and support from my family. National athletes at that time were largely self-funded. My mother was financially responsible for my training, equipment and nutrition, so there was a sense of pride from the entire clan when I would travel and return from international competition. My siblings would sometimes wonder why the focus was always on me!”
“I have many great memories competing both locally and abroad, but the ones that stand out the most for me would be the local championships.
Southern Games was then considered ‘The Olympics of the Caribbean’; athletes from across the islands would compete. I remember the welcoming atmosphere, the cheering crowds that spilled over outside the venue. I can still hear them cheering for me as I lined up against competitors like Joan Porter, Janice Bernard and others.”
“The 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany was a milestone achievement; it was the culmination of years of dedication and commitment to my sport. It also preceded my athletic scholarship to Washington State University.
I was Trinidad and Tobago’s first female Olympic athlete and the youngest ever at age 16 to represent my country. The Munich hostage crisis and killing of athletes, coaches and officials marred the games. I was scared, told to stay in my room as I was separated from the rest of the camp. I missed several training sessions, but made it to a memorable quarterfinal.”
“I want my legacy to be my passion for youth, and my desire to give back to my community.
In 2012, I formed the LP Eagles, an athletic club based in the Larry Gomes Stadium, and the Arima Velodrome. We train five days per week and comprise approximately 25 athletes. The development of each athlete is holistic as the focus is both on their academic and athletic success both on and off the field.”
For further information on LP Eagles, you can contact Laura at 350-1912.
Jamila Gamero is a triathlete and former professional footballer for Sevilla FC women’s Club in Spain. She is the mother of two boys, Tishad and Akim, and the founder of the Mariama Foundation, a registered non-profit organisation raising the storytelling bar for the Caribbean’s female athletes.