When Sudbury's Robert Esmie won Olympic gold and glory at the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996 Naomi Palmer wasn't even born.
But Naomi, 13, a Grade 8 student at École Félix-Ricard and ambitious track and field athlete, hopes to bring the retired track and field superstar back to his hometown so he can train the region's young athletes to reach their full potential.
Esmie is most well known for his role in the Canadian 4x100 m relay team – along with Glenroy Gilbert, Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey – that was number one in the world from 1994 to 1999, and won Olympic gold in Atlanta.
Esmie was born in Jamaica, but when he was 11 years old his family moved to Sudbury. He excelled at track and field and eventually reached the peak in his sport.
After the 1996 Summer Olympics he moved to the Vancouver area, where he has stayed since.
When he retired, Esmie stayed away from track and field for years.
“I fell out of love with it because of the injuries and the frustration,” he said.
But due to his reputation, and his continued involvement in sport – he worked for a company called Kintec Footwear and Orthotics and continues to manage a store in Vancouver – local doctors started to refer their patients to him for physical rehabilitation and training.
Esmie started training a few athletes to increase their speed in their various disciplines, and through word of mouth his roster started to grow.
He started his own company, called Air Blastoff (http://airblastoff.com/), to help athletes – including professional soccer and football players – be faster on the field.
Today, Esmie and his team train around 180 athletes in a variety of sports, and he expects to reach 200 athletes by the end of the year.
Naomi's father grew up with Esmie when he lived in Sudbury, and thanks to the Rio 2016 Olympics, and the success of Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse, she started to hear a lot more about the past exploits of Canada's 1996 track and field team.
Her father was able to put her in touch with his old friend, and she asked if he had any interest in returning to his home town.
Esmie challenged Naomi to gauge local interest for his training program. It didn't make sense for him to return to Sudbury to train one student athlete, but if enough people were interested in his program his mind could be changed.
“I said, 'Once you get the interest of 250 people, now you have my attention,'” he told Sudbury.com.
Esmie said that with enough local interest, he would consider moving back to Sudbury with his family and training athletes in the Nickel City full-time.
Naomi's mom helped her put together an online survey to measure local interest for Esmie's training program, and they have also been in touch with local school boards to get the message out to students.
Naomi's immediate goal is to shave a second from her personal best in the 100-metre sprint, which currently stands at 13.72 seconds.
She said the fastest time for a girl her age at the Laurentian University track is in the 12-second range.
“I want to beat that record,” she said.
For the long term, her athletic goals are more ambitious.
“If a gold medallist comes to Sudbury to train me, I can have that chance to go to the Olympics,” Naomi said.