Feature Story

Cisco's Pascale Delaunay: London Calling

by Laurence Cruz

Meet Pascale Delaunay, a Cisco engineer working hard to achieve her Olympic dream. Find out what motivates her to work hard both at work and in her personal life.

Remember what your mom told you about burning the candle at both ends? Well, it might just produce gold.

That's the dream of Pascale Delaunay, a systems engineer at Cisco by day who's training for the 2012 Olympic Games by night, dawn or pretty much any waking hour she can grab. If her Olympic dreams come true, she could become the first woman to bring home a medal for Haiti.

Born in France and raised in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, Delaunay has spent most of her 29 years in the United States. She began working for Cisco in 2005 and started training in earnest for the Olympics two years later when she moved to the Los Angeles area and met world-class track and field coach Ernie Gregoire. Her sport of choice: triple jump.

"I think the triple jump is one of the tougher events," Delaunay said at a recent training session at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. "It's very technical. You have to have a balance of strength, speed, power, agility and rhythm. They all have to come together in one jump. I like that challenge."

Cramming in a demanding high-tech career and her rigorous Olympic training regimen is no cakewalk. Delaunay typically starts her day at 4:30 a.m. so she can fit in a couple of hours' cardio, weight training or skills training at the gym before putting in a full day's work at Cisco, then meeting with her coach for more training in the afternoon. Later, after dinner and a little family time, she trains some more before bed. It takes discipline, focus and extreme time management, she says.

"I definitely have to scope out what I want to achieve on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis and on a yearly basis," she says. "And I had to learn to sleep fast—to get as much rest as I can in a short span, and then wake up and start working the plan."

Delaunay, who has a dual degree in electrical engineering and French from the University of Rhode Island, says it helps that she can use tools like video conferencing and Cisco WebEx. They allow her to sometimes work from home and cut down on travel—big pluses if you're nursing an injured ankle, as Delaunay was recently.

"Technology is absolutely one of the key reasons I'm able to do this," she says, adding that she and Gregoire use a lot of video in their sessions and talk over the Internet when she travels to meetings. "I don't think I would be able to do it on a steady 9 – 5 schedule."

"It's very tough," says Gregoire of Delaunay's dual life. A former U.S. Olympic coach, Gregoire has worked with such track and field megastars as Larry Myricks, who in 1988 made the fifth-best long jump in history. He says the emotional stresses of a full-time job can translate to physical stresses for an athlete. "It's not just track—it's the weight room, it's the rehab," he says.

Delaunay's life recently got a little easier. That's because Cisco granted her several weeks' supported leave and additional financial support so that she can fully focus on her goal. Delaunay says it's made a huge difference. She has been jumping far beyond her recorded personal best at an official meeting of 13m 50cm (the world record is 15m 50cm; the Olympic record is 15m 25cm). If all goes to plan, she will go to France for training camp at the end of May, then on to London for the Games, which run July 27 – Aug. 12.

So why has Delaunay chosen to represent Haiti when she could have tried out for—and probably gotten more financial backing with—the French or U.S. Olympic teams?

For Delaunay, who prides herself on her Haitian heritage and still speaks Creole and French at home, it came down to something much bigger than herself.

"I felt that I could have a more positive and bigger impact representing Haiti," she says, her face lighting up as she imagines standing on the medals podium to the sound of La Dessalinienne (Haiti's national anthem) and returning to her Caribbean homeland to stir young imaginations.

"You have young girls who really don't have a future to look forward to aside from being married," she says. "I want them to expand their dreams. You can be an engineer, you can be in technology, certainly you can be a successful athlete."