By Bianca Silva
When Claude-Alix Bertrand sets his heart set on something, he goes for it. Whether it’s taking his love for horses and transforming it into a successful career, or developing a magazine dedicated to the luxuries of equestrian life and putting the Haitian polo team on the map, nothing is ever beyond his reach. His dedication in bringing polo to the forefront has led him to serve as a Haitian ambassador for UNESCO, a sector of the United Nations which aims to provide international collaboration through education, science and culture.
Bertrand speaks to The Haitian Times on the passion, skill and luxury that comes with being a professional equestrian.
It seems like being an equestrian as well as having a passion for horses runs in the family. What inspired you to follow in those footsteps?
I’ve never been one to be influenced or follow in anyone’s footsteps. Instead, I’ve always followed my heart and what I instinctively respond to. As a boy, from the age of four, my parents introduced me to multiple sports. I took tennis, soccer, shooting and sailing lessons, to name a few. And while I preferred some activities over others, at the age of seven, I was sent to an equestrian and riding summer camp in Barbados, where I realized the chemistry was truly undeniable. While genetically, my great-grandfather, myself and my cousin are all professional equestrians; it’s a genetic trait more than an expectation or requirement to follow in family footsteps.
What was the inspiration behind founding Haiti Polo Team as the national polo team of Haiti and why do you continue to pour your energy into the team?
After the earthquake, which at the time I had been a United States Polo Association (USPA) player since 2003, I felt a calling to not just offer a different vision of Haiti, but also to find new ways to bring potential development and investments for the country, as well as opportunities for young Haitians to flourish in avenues not offered locally. I left a very lucrative contract with the USPA, thinking I would utilize my platform for a year to promote opportunities within Haiti at every tournament we played. I formed the polo team by acquiring professional players I felt would embrace my vision and place to represent Haiti internationally. A national polo team requires one player to be born and raised in the country of representation while the others need to pledge to represent the country and receive recognition from the Ministries of Youth and Sport and Foreign Affairs, who offer them residency during their tenure. The rest is history. A year later, we won major tournaments in 2014 in Shanghai, Argentina, and eventually the American Internationals World Cup. After those big wins, Haiti Polo Team’s name was renowned within the international polo world.
How do you reconcile polo – the most expensive and elusive sport in the world – with making it accessible to Haitians who may have the desire and skills, but lack the finances?
At the end of 2014, in partnership with the then-Minister of Tourism and Creative Industries Stephanie Balmir-Villedrouin, plans were laid for a 6,000-acres development on the southern coast of Cotes-de-Fer, Haiti. That development, composed of hotels, retail centers and athletic facilities, plans to have a polo school and world-class polo fields, allowing international competitions to be held on site, as well as to allow young Haitians to train and develop their skills – giving them the platform to compete on the world stage. This opportunity would allow Haitians with limited means to pursue the sport as well as be introduced on a global stage, should they have the necessary talent.
You also are the publisher of Polo Lifestyles Magazine that gives an inside look to the culture of equestrian life. What is your favorite thing about it?
Polo Lifestyles is now the most recognizable polo lifestyle magazine in the world. From our advertisers to our partners, our international reputation has made us a household name in the world of polo. To think that the magazine that is the authority behind the Sport of Kings was conceptualized by Haitians and brilliantly covers global luxury events gives me tremendous pride for the contributions that we Haitians are making on the global stage. My favorite thing about the magazine is the constant research, discovery and education that comes with it, in addition to the fact that it pairs Haiti with unexpected luxury.
Looking back at your life, what is the most important lesson learned about pursuing polo and how would you translate into encouraging young, aspiring polo players today?
There are many lessons that come from being a professional athlete: passion and discipline are absolute requirements. But it is in hard times that my biggest lessons lie. I’ve broken so many bones: both ankles, legs, fingers, toes, my nose, my shoulder, my pelvis; it would often be easy to give up when things get hard, especially given that I’m constantly recovering from a string of lesser injuries from high-speed chases, collisions, and rigorous training. The most important lesson, is to get up when you fall. The second biggest lesson I learned came in the form of the disbelief and discouragement I faced when Haiti Polo Team was launching. Many, many people did not support us, believe in us, or revel in our accomplishments the way we hoped they would. It taught me that when you know what is right – when your path is clear and your vision is honed in on the prize, not to be distracted by noise or naysayers. Instead, follow your heart always.