By Lethbridge Herald on July 7, 2015.
Loudia Laarman said no the first time she was asked to speak at a public ceremony. As youâ€™d expect from a Wilson Middle School grad and standout track athlete at Winston Churchill, Laarman was thankful for the offer, but she still declined to speak to a gymnasium full of students.
That was in 2014, when she was asked to speak at the University of Southern California Trojansâ€™ graduation ceremony. In Southern California, you know, Los Angeles â€” a pretty big deal.
â€œThat was such a huge honour,â€ said Laarman. â€œI remember my advisor, she told me about it and I was so nervous because I donâ€™t do public speaking or anything and I was like â€˜That is so awesome. I canâ€™t do it.â€™
â€œAnd I walked out of her office and she said â€˜Iâ€™ll let you sleep on it.â€™â€
Laarman said no way was she going to change her mind. But her story is one worth telling. Never mind that sheâ€™s a four-time All-American at the United Statesâ€™ most prestigious track program. Never mind that a girl from little old Lethbridge and little old Wilson made it to one of the most luxurious private schools in the NCAA. Never mind that it took her from the harsh weather of SouthernÂ Alberta to the lack of weather in Los Angeles.
No, Laarmanâ€™s story is one that inspires. Itâ€™s also one that is rarely told. Laarman is not a public speaker and her forays into doing press have been few and far between because of it.
But four years basking in the sun at USC and travelling the U.S. and the world as a track athlete have taken Loudia Laarman from shy little girl to shining star.
At her USC Trojan graduation, she got to step up and tell her story.
Laarman was born in Haiti, and by the time she was two years old, sheâ€™d been hospitalized several times for malnutrition and dehydration. She weighed 15 pounds. Her hair was a reddish-orange and she had to be dipped in ointment by her adoptive mother and sister to keep her brittle, scabbed skin from falling off. She was wrapped in bandages at two years old and the size of a months-old infant.
â€œAt that point in my life, life was already escaping my body and hope drained from my eyes,â€ she said.
To see Laarman as she charged into the hallway of Wilson Middle School last month, that reality seems impossible. Sheâ€™s graceful, powerful and infectious when she smiles, widens her eyes and apologizes for being late to the Wilson Athletic Awards night.
â€œOh my gosh, Iâ€™m sooo sorry,â€ she said before gliding into the gym, where she was greeted by teachers and friends.
Laarman is an elite track athlete training in Edmonton with Wes Moerman, who has worked with the University of Alberta and several Canadian athletes. Sheâ€™s graduated from USC and left the balmy beauty of LA for her home.
Mom and Dad still live in Lethbridge and Laarman is still â€œa typical Canadian girl, through and through.â€
She said a few goals sheâ€™d hoped to achieve simply didnâ€™t work out this year and sheâ€™s looking forward to continuing to grow and develop as a sprinter. She said summer would be a bit of a break for her as she sets her goals for next year.
And she does have a burgeoning career as a public speaker.
â€œI was always a bit of a quiet one, for sure,â€ she said. â€œI still am, I still get really nervous but Iâ€™m more comfortable, Iâ€™m not as shy as I used to be.
â€œI fake it better now, I guess.â€
The story of her journey doesnâ€™t need much delivery. Itâ€™s pretty moving on the facts alone. From Lethbridge, Laarman embraced the culture shock of moving to a campus bigger than her hometown and a USC program that is out of this world in terms of achievement, expectations â€” and cost.
â€œIâ€™ve been very fortunate to go to a lot of places and see the things sports can do for you beside just sports,â€ she said. â€œMy running for my school, getting a chance to get to do all that for free. I mean, that schoolâ€™s like $50,000 a year!
â€œI would have never ever have gone there without track. Itâ€™s been awesome for me, being able to do that, to travel overseas for track. I have friends all over the world because Iâ€™ve gotten a chance to go all over the world.â€
Itâ€™s changed Laarman in fundamental ways, but all that time in the sun didnâ€™t dull her love of home.
â€œUSC served itâ€™s time for me and it was a really incredible experience but it was temporary and I knew it was always going to be temporary,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m so glad I got to experience all that and now I get to apply my knowledge to my life at home.â€
And, she added, she got a little soft in that California sunshine.
â€œI was a little surprised when winter hit,â€ she said. â€œI definitely got used to not having to worry about the weather because it was always sunny and nice down there.â€
BAck at Wilson, Laarman said she didnâ€™t feel like a big shot. That was never the point of going to a huge American school anyway. She chose USC because she didnâ€™t want to be the big dog right away. She wanted to work, to earn everything.
â€œIt was such a huge learning curve, there. I always said I wanted to go to USC to challenge myself. I didnâ€™t want to go somewhere where I would right away be the number one athlete â€” and I definitely got what I wanted.â€
She said sheâ€™s focused on whatâ€™s next and doesnâ€™t worry about the past. Instead, she lets its lessons become part of the Loudia Laarman of right now. There are stresses and worries and regrets that come to all top-flight athletes but Laarman knows how far she has come.
And she knows how far she wants to go.
â€œItâ€™s easy to focus on the things you havenâ€™t done instead of focus on the things you have done. Iâ€™ve worked hard.
â€œNo matter how far I go or what I do, the things Iâ€™ve accomplished already are pretty incredible. And Iâ€™m really thankful for that.â€