Dayana Octavien, a Haitian-American discus thrower, looks for her first Olympic start. Watch »
Beijing, China, is 12 time zones and half a world away — for most.
Dayana Octavien, a 2000 Lely High grad, stands inside a discus circle on a vacant practice field at Community School of Naples. She spins and twirls before letting out a scream and letting go the 2-pound, 3-ounce metal disc that might just be her ticket overseas.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon in her hometown, about 5 o’clock. Even the early-risers in China, where it is Wednesday morning, haven’t rolled out of bed.
But for Octavien, the distance from here to there — from this quiet sandlot off Livingston Road to the biggest stage on the planet — is not measured by time zones, cultural barriers or even miles.
No, it’s measured in meters.
And Octavien, who turns 26 next month, needs only a few more of them to guarantee herself a spot in the Summer Games, where she would represent Haiti, her family’s native land. Every spin, twirl and grunt propels her forward, one step closer to the throw that could change her life.
“The pressure is absolutely stifling,” her coach, Kim Butts, said as he watched Dayana (pronounced Diana) practice. “You only get this chance every four years, and that’s a long time — four years.”
It is possible that Octavien, who registered a throw of 56.62 meters (185 feet, 7 inches) at a meet in Tampa this spring, could make the Haitian team with the Olympic “B” standard of 59 meters. She would be assured of a trip, however, by reaching the “A” standard — 61 meters.
Somewhere in that body of hers has to be a few more meters. Somewhere in those legs, so powerful and sculptured you’d expect to find them on an NFL running back.
“I know I’m talented,” Octavien said, “and I feel like I deserve to be there just as much as any other professional performing at this level. And I don’t feel like I’m done. I feel I still have a lot more to give. I still feel good. I still feel prepared to compete on an international stage.”
Make no mistake, Octavien, one of Collier County’s most accomplished track and field athletes, could drop her bag of discs on the grass, walk away from that slab of concrete in the center of the circle and drive off right now without missing a beat.
Octavien has a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida, where she earned All-America honors as a scholarship track star, and a master’s from the University of Bath in England. She speaks three languages — English, Spanish and Haitian Creole. She embodies the “better life” her parents moved to America pursuing three decades ago.
But the Olympics are coming.
And rest assured, Octavien, who has until July 21 to make the qualifying mark, is all tied in knots with every throw.
“Right now,” she said, “I’m just trying to relax. I can’t even explain what this journey has been like.”
The journey began in the hallways of Lely, where Butts, the then-track coach, pestered Octavien, whose long arms and muscular thighs screamed potential. The girl finally caved, giving up softball her junior year to twist and contort her body in positions she never imagined.
Then, at the state track meet her senior year, Octavien shaped her future in the space of 20 minutes. In back-to-back events, she won the discus with her final throw and the shot put with her first. She soon had a scholarship offer from USF, among others.
The girl from East Naples, born in Miami to Haitian migrant workers, started going places. She earned Conference USA Female Track & Field Athlete of the Year her senior season. The following summer, she traveled to Sacramento, Calif., for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
“I often find myself giggling,” Octavien said. “I never saw myself here.”
She’s come full circle.
When she isn’t working on her throws at Community School, she’s showing up at her coach’s home to lift weights in his garage.
They take it to the streets, too — Butts filling a wheelbarrow with weights, Octavien pushing it up and down her coach’s neighborhood.
On the day last week that a trio of journalists showed up to chronicle the local’s pursuit of the Olympic dream, Octavien, the director of education at Big Cypress Wilderness Institute in Ochopee, broke into a smile as she prepared to make her first throw.
“I’m not used to all this attention,” she said.
Maybe it’s best that way.
Octavien and Butts have made a pact not to talk about the stakes — about meters and dates. They realize the pressure is intense enough without the reminders.
“This is what she has been working toward since high school,” said longtime friend Martha Anilus. “This has always been her dream.”
Octavien has been on the brink before. Sort of.
Months after wrapping up her USF career, when Octavien was invited to Sacramento, she had a chance to represent the U.S. in Athens, Greece. She didn’t make it past the preliminary round of the Trials, though, and her shot at the Games was over in a day.
About a year ago, at the urging of her University of Bath coach, Octavien applied for — and was granted — Haitian citizenship.
Some might call it a shortcut.
Octavien doesn’t have to worry about an Olympic Trials this time — about battling some of the world’s best throwers just to make the Olympic team. That’s because she and Joeane Jadotte, a Florida International senior, are Haiti’s only hopefuls in the event.
But the standards for Haitians are the same as for other athletes. Octavien must still make the mandatory throw to be considered Beijing-worthy.
“You’re looking at a country that’s often under-represented in everything,” Octavien said. “To be out there and to represent my lineage — I consider myself Haitian-American — would be a great experience. It’s nice to be on a team where people can really relate with your background.”
Octavien has only been to Haiti twice, she said. Her last visit was more than 10 years ago.
But she’d love to go back. With a medal.
And they’d welcome her.
“I think it’s all about understanding your roots,” Haitian hurdler Nadine Faustin-Parker said. “I think the Haiti people would be proud to know there is an athlete whose parents are Haitian and who chose — because, remember, she has a choice — to represent that country.”
Haiti’s success in the Olympics is meek. Sylvio Cator, who took silver in 1928 in the men’s long jump, is the lone individual to medal for the country.
Octavien can change that. Maybe.
She has competed in a few meets this year and will have a chance to compete in a few more. She must make her mark in one of those meets to qualify for the Olympics.
If it doesn’t happen?
Most throwers don’t reach their prime until their 30s. Consider that Natalya Sadova of Russia was 32 in 2004, when she won gold in the discus.
Octavien figures she will be back here in four years. She figures her black Nike throwing shoes, the “old reliable” pair with worn toes, will still fit.
“I’d be peaking,” she said. “That would be my prime.”
But that’s four years — four years.
Octavien has her sights set on reaching Beijing. On erasing the precious few meters that separate her from a trip across the globe.
“At this point,” Octavien said, “they say 90 percent of it is mental. You have what it takes physically to be successful, but it’s holding it together. Sometimes you feel like you’ve just got to be in the right place at the right time with the right wind and the right conditions to make that one throw — the one throw that will change your life.”