He may be a 47-year-old grandfather, but Haiti’s Jean-Pierre Roy wants to tackle the icy slopes of the World Alpine Ski Championships to raise awareness for his disaster-hit country.
He is the president, team captain and lone racer for the Haiti Ski Federation, which was only recognized by the sport’s governing body, FIS, in November.
“I am probably the only grandfather in the world to be taking part in the world ski championships,” he said with a smile.
Having been born on the Caribbean island, which was devastated by a massive earthquake last year, Roy is prepared to be ridiculed against the world’s best skiers to draw attention to his country and, maybe, raise some money.
The Parisian, whose parents emigrated to France when he was two, lost family in the disaster and wants to do anything he can to help.
“I went to Haiti in October, 10 months after the disaster and what I saw was terrible,” the grandfather of two said. “I wanted to do something to help my country and decided I could increase the profile through skiing. Haiti is a marvelous country, it is more than misery and cholera. We need projects which help people.”
However, to be able to race against the world’s top skiers such as Bode Miller and Ivica Kostelic, Roy must first come through today’s qualification for tomorrow’s giant slalom race on the tricky Kandahar course.
He admits that he faces an uphill task.
“I founded the Haitian Ski Federation which was recognized by FIS on Nov. 6,” said the engineer, who owns a company with 10 employees. “That gave me exactly 20 days of full skiing to prepare — four times more than what I have each year.”
In something reminiscent of the Jamaican bobsleigh team’s efforts at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Roy admits his skiing experience has been limited to just one week per year since he went on a school trip, aged six, but he has big ambitions.
“I would like start a real Haitian team for the next winter Olympic Games,” he said, hoping to attract expatriate skiers.
Roy qualified for Garmisch by racing in France and has finished five races this season, two giant slalom’s and three slaloms.
His best result was 25th, and last, in a slalom event at Val Thorens, having finished more than a minute behind the rest at the back of the field.
He met his manger and coach Thierry Montillet through a ski club in Paris. The Frenchman is the cousin of Carole Montillet, the 2002 Olympic downhill champion.
Although Haiti has no ski resort — even the island’s highest peaks rarely see snow — Roy is determined to do his country proud and has been working out daily.
“I am carrying a few kilos, but workout every day on a ski machine in my garage at home near Paris,” he said. “I look at photos of famous skiers and try to emulate their actions — it will take years, but I am up to it.”
He has become something of a minor celebrity in Germany, meeting most of the world’s top skiers, and he is staying at the same hotel as the Austrian team and double gold medalist Elisabeth Goergl, who is now one of his role-models.
He may not have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, but his spirit is infectious and he has certainly put the spotlight on his troubled homeland, which is still in need of desperate help.