Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Haitian judo athlete proving his mettle at Olympic Games

By Georgia East
CORAL SPRINGS - He was taunted and teased growing up in Haiti, in part because Adler Volmar wasn't Haitian enough.

Born in Miami and raised in Cap Haitien, the other boys made fun of his Haitian Creole, which sounded different with an American lilt.

At 13, a group of classmates attacked Volmar with a knife, leaving him with a deep gash in his forehead.

His mother said enough was enough. She signed him up for judo.

"My mom told him, 'You're going to learn to defend yourself,'" said his sister Samantha Volmar, who saw her brother make a transformation. "It was in his blood, in his veins. He was just waiting for it."

On Thursday morning Volmar, 31, is due on the mat in Beijing, competing for the U.S. judo team. It's his second time at the Olympics. In 1996, he represented Haiti in the sport. If he wins, he would be the first athlete of Haitian descent to take a medal in judo.

Although not listed as a favorite in the competition, Adler is being watched closely by a growing group of fans in South Florida's Haitian community. His story has been spreading on some Haitian blogs and Web sites. And even though his match is scheduled to be streamed live at nbcolympics.com tonight at 12:01 a.m., many of his newfound fans plan to be in front of their monitors watching.

"I've been spreading the word and looking for his updates online," said Roosevelt Presume, of Plantation. "We're extremely excited for him."

Jacob Francois, president of a Haitian lobbying group in West Palm Beach, said the local community is monitoring Olympic athletes with Haitian roots. Martial arts, he said, have a huge following in Haiti.

Volmar moved to Coral Springs in 1998, at a time when Haiti's political climate was becoming unstable. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy, became a combat medic and joined the Navy's elite sports program. That led him to train with Olympic judo great Jimmy Pedro. "His goal at the time was to make the U.S. Team," Pedro recalled Tuesday. "Adler is a testament to his commitment."

That commitment brought Volmar back from a potentially career-ending knee injury suffered in January.

After surgery, the 220-pound contender kept training. Five months later, he qualified for the Olympics.

But getting to Beijing was a community effort. A group of people who knew Volmar from his job as a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness Club in Coral Springs held a fundraiser that raised $4,500 to send him to China.

"We've been on this quest for eight years," said his wife, Crystal Volmar, who joined her husband in China on Sunday.

Family members say their only regret is that Yolette Volmar won't be there to see her son when he faces his Olympic opponents. She died two years ago of breast cancer.

"She was such a proud woman and worked so hard for this," said Samantha Volmar. "I know she's smiling down on my brother."

Georgia East can be reached at geast@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4629.

Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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