'Somebody pinch me': Yellowknife mother overcomes adversity to raise an Olympian
Carlene Smith gets ready to watch son, track star Akeem Haynes, compete in Rio
After overcoming a tumultuous past, Carlene Smith could not be more grateful for the opportunity to watch her 24-year-old son compete in the 2016 Olympic Games from her home in Yellowknife.
"It's like somebody pinch me, am I still alive?" said a tearful Smith.
Just 12 years ago, Smith and her son were sleeping on a mattress on a friend's basement floor while Smith worked multiple jobs trying to make ends meet.
Today, Haynes is a member of Team Canada in the men's 100-metre sprint and the men's 4x100m relay with fellow Canadian heavyweights Andre De Grasse and Aaron Brown.
Smith and Haynes moved to Yellowknife from their home in Jamaica in 1998 to be with family that had already relocated.
"Akeem thought the snow on the ground was salt," said Smith with a laugh.
An athlete from an early age, Haynes excelled at soccer at Yellowknife's Weledeh Catholic School, which he attended until he and his mother moved to Calgary in 2004.
Smith says that's when things really got tough.
"I left [for Calgary] with someone and when we got there, he kind of put us out, in the height of winter."
With nowhere to go, Smith turned to a friend for help, sleeping with Haynes on the friend's basement floor for months.
Eventually, family and friends pitched in to get the pair a place of their own, but Smith credits her son for getting her through that time.
"Akeem is my rock, he's been the shoulder that I cry on, and he always encourages me never to give up."
Smith said she always made her son a priority — even selling nearly everything they owned in Calgary so he could go on a high school football trip to St. Louis.
"That's when he made his promise to me. He said 'Mom, I promise I will become somebody.'"
An Olympian in the making
While Haynes spent most of his high school career in Calgary playing football, the star running back's speed was noticed by Olympic coach Stuart McMillan, who started training with him.
"Akeem just took off from there," says Smith.
Haynes was named to the Olympic team as part of the 4x100m relay for London 2012, but did not actually compete at the Games.
However, it's expected that Haynes will compete this year.
In March, Haynes led off a Canadian relay team that posted the world's fastest time in 2016, though it has since been broken by a British team.
According to Smith, who moved back to Yellowknife two years ago, Haynes is more than excited.
"We talk every day [from Rio], and he's loving it. He's like, 'Mom I'm ready, I'm ready for this.'"
Smith says she may be more nervous than her son.
The 100-metre sprint qualifiers take place Saturday. She plans to celebrate, regardless of how things turn out.
"All he can do is go out there and give it his best, and whether he comes back with anything or not, I'll be proud of him."
Until then, Smith is busy cooking up her son's favourite foods to serve her family in Yellowknife as they watch the race.
"We'll have curry chicken and rice and peas, and ice cream. Akeem loves ice cream."