Banker-turned-coach Olivier Baillet marries business and charity to bring fitness and empowerment to fellow residents. Elizabeth Kerr reports.
When a Canadian tells you they don’t know how to ski the reaction is usually surprise. Ditto for Australians and swimming. Yet many of our indispensable domestic helpers from the island(s) nation of the Philippines can’t swim. Splash set out to correct that with its massively popular free lessons, teaching 400 domestic workers a valuable and fun life skill since 2014.
Discovery Bay resident Olivier Baillet is looking to share years of swimming and endurance coaching experience with Splash and bring the organisation’s services to DB, hopefully starting in spring 2017. “I’m not looking to be thanked or rewarded, but I know it will have an impact,” he says of Splash. “What I love is that when they go home, they can swim and enjoy what we all do when we go to the Philippines. Also it empowers women at 35, 40 or 50 to learn a new skill they never thought they would. It builds confidence. And there’s a social element. Everyone gets together, learns something and there’s a party on exam day.”
Above and beyond
A refugee from the banking industry, Olivier’s road to Hong Kong started in a small town 20 kilometres from Paris, winding through New York and Argentina before arriving in the SAR (for the first time) in 2008. Now 45, Olivier looks more like a retired rock star than risk manager – all wired grace and casually restrained energy. He has been swimming since he was seven (his first taste came during a family vacation on the French Riviera) and running seriously since 25, though his earliest forays were in the forests behind his home (now called trail running).
Given that outdoorsy background, Olivier and his wife, Anne, never considered a Hong Kong home other than DB. “We’re not city people. Having that village atmosphere is right for us,” he says. “Sometimes we want to be somewhere else, but not often. It’s a good trade off.”
The couple settled in DB on returning from Singapore in 2013, when Anne – a one-time gymnast, judge, coach, triathlete, trail runner and Iron Man competitor – accepted a new position in financial services. Olivier was able to take advantage of the change to launch Beyond the Line Coaching. The decision came down to having a good network of contacts to draw from – and a regular income. “I came back with a different mindset. I had quit the banking world and I wanted to set up my own sports coaching business,” Olivier recalls, admitting his wife’s job gave him the security they needed for sevenyear-old Alexandre and nine-yearold daughter Belem.
“At the time, I thought ‘If I don’t do it now, I never will. We have a stable income; I can take a risk,’” Olivier adds. “In 2014, I started Beyond the Line mainly with executives who want to do well in marathons and swimming events and so on. I also work with corporates doing motivational talks and team building events – all related to sports.”
A natural coach
Beyond the Line had its genesis as much in Olivier’s banking career as his love of sport. “I discovered that in all my positions while I was in banking, I was also coaching newcomers, beginners. Whatever the job was I was always doing this. I feel very comfortable sharing,” he theorises.
In addition, while working in New York and training for a triathlon nearly 16 years ago, Olivier took what he calls the ‘Latin approach’ t o t r a i n i n g – “ m u d d l i n g through alone” – but wound up answering questions about how he got into shape so fast, time management and so on. Recognising a potential service, he tucked the idea away for future reference and was able to nurture it in Hong Kong, where serious trainees are willing to pay for professional help. The omnipresence of digital communications and remote working helped.
“What I provide is a very specific training plan that is absolutely tailor-made for [the client’s] life,” Olivier explains. “I provide the local knowledge – where to train, which community to join – and the model I’ve designed makes me use my brain every day. I answer questions on nutrition, recovery, bikes, shoes, everything, and I’m happy to share my knowledge.”
Olivier’s client base is what he calls people like him: professionals with more drive than time. “My strength is that I was exactly like them,” he says. “I know what they mean when they say they have a business trip and will be in a hotel day and night. I relate to that.”
Making a splash
Ultimately it is Olivier’s genuine joy at being in the water that underpins Beyond the Line and will rub off on learners at Splash. “Everything that has to do with swimming gets me excited. I’m not the best swimmer in Hong Kong, by far,” he says with a self-deprecating guffaw. “But whenever I hear about a crazy challenge I’m in. I want to be part of it.”
Indeed, that’s what led to his first taste of philanthropy: an 80-kilometre swim around Lantau in 2014 for Plastic Free Seas with DB resident Bruce Pye (coincidentally one of Olivier’s first clients). It was there he discovered the satisfaction of doing what he liked and doing something good for others. He met long-distance swimmer and Splash founder Simon Holliday when the latter did a Macau swim, which added fuel to the charitable fire.
“He was really cool, and I liked him right away. As soon as I heard he was doing these free classes for helpers I went to him and told him I’d be very, very happy to help. I volunteered to be the Splash man in DB,” Olivier notes, stressing that Simon and others at Splash deserve far more credit for its success then he does.
While there’s a strong contingent of DBers already providing (free) swim coaching at Splash, Olivier hopes to recruit and train more in the coming months. He’s also hoping to expand Beyond the Line’s scope to, perhaps, include open-water swimming courses and more group work, particularly in DB. And even with Hong Kong’s less appealing traits (poor air, mysteriously sourced food) Olivier’s not giving it up just yet.
“I could not do what I’m doing if I were living in Paris, in a country where people look backward and think the past was better,” he finishes. “I like being in a place where everybody thinks the next day is going to be better.”
Beyond the Line Coaching, www.beyondthelinecoaching.com