116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa director of strength and conditioning Raimond Braithwaite got in the habit of being in the weight room by 3:45 a.m. every morning when his youngest daughter, Maxine, was born in 2015.
“You know how kids are at that age, they wake up at all hours,” Braithwaite said.
He laughs, because he knows it’s crazy to wake up at 3 a.m. and not go back to bed.
“So I would just come to the weight room and work out. So, it’s become a part of my deal. I know it’s crazy,” Braithwaite said.
By the time he showers and gets ready for the day, though, the first group of Iowa football players are in the weight room. Sometimes, on a nice day, he’ll sneak in a bike ride outside before work. Other days he’s running on the strip of turf or getting a lift in the weight room, like his players do.
Yes, strength and conditioning is clearly his passion, but Braithwaite also is a family man and a bookworm with a quiet demeanor. As a strength coach, it’s more than the weights and cones, it’s about molding players into men.
“You have a chance to really be impactful on young person's life, and I think that's a profound and honorable thing,” Braithwaite said.
Braithwaite moved back and forth between New York and Florida because of his dad, Federico’s, job with Procter & Gamble, but did most of his growing up in New Berlin, N.Y., a village upstate with a population just over 1,000. He played basketball and football and ran track.
His dad is from Panama and mother, Maxine Braithwaite, from Jamaica. They met at the New York Institute of Technology, and had three boys, with Raimond being the middle child. Of the three, Raimond was the more reserved one.
“I suspect because he was the middle child, he was very intellectually driven,” Federico said. “When we were going on trips in the car, he was the only guy reading. If he wasn't reading, he was bored. He had to bring a book with him to read.”
Mario Wallace, a college friend of Raimond’s at the University of West Florida, said his friends would joke about how Raimond’s voracious reading could pay off beyond his studies.
“We were roommates with another friend of ours, and we would sit around the apartment from time to time and jeopardy would come on, and he would answer every question and get it right,” Wallace said. “I was amazed at how much he knew, some of the hardest questions that normal people wouldn't know, he would get it right.”
Federico described New Berlin as a quaint town just northeast of the county seat, Norwich, with one main road. Everyone knew each other, from the local Italian restaurant to church. Maxine substitute taught at the school.
Sports, and the community it built, nurtured Raimond. He lived with a friend to finish his senior year when Federico’s job transferred him to Cincinnati.
But New Berlin also was where Maxine discovered she had lupus, an autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own tissues and organs. Shortly after Raimond finished his senior year, Federico and Maxine moved back to Tampa, Fla., so he followed by attending the University of West Florida in Pensacola for undergrad, then Florida State for his graduate degree.
Moving to Iowa
Raimond said he knew he would always go to graduate school, and received his master’s in exercise physiology. Interning in the weight room is where he discovered his love for strength and conditioning.
It made sense to Federico, who said his son lives a strict, conservative lifestyle. Strength and conditioning is organized routine.
The first time he moved far from family was when he left for the job as assistant strength and conditioning coach at Iowa from 2002-2004. His mom died during the 2003 season.
Raimond remembers getting the call that Maxine’s time was limited. Iowa was on a string of road games and next was Wisconsin. He flew home just in time to be with her and family at Brandon Regional Hospital before she died. He named his daughter after her in 2015.
In that moment, Raimond leaned on his best friend, Wallace, who knew what it was like to lose a loved one to lupus. He’d lost his sister eight years earlier.
“I'll never forget I was leaving Pensacola moving to North Carolina and (Raimond) gave me a call,” Wallace said. "He told me about his mother and I was driving. I had to pull over and just cry with him.“
Leading his program
Raimond left Iowa to be head of strength and conditioning at Delaware State in 2005.
And it was a project.
“I get there knowing the weight room was a wreck,” Raimond said. “Like a broom closet. The weight room was just an amalgamation of equipment crammed in a room and there was like a squat rack, maybe two squat racks in the corner collecting dust.”
Derek Hall, former Delaware State linebackers and special teams coordinator, called it a dusty garage.
“I used to call it like a low level high school weight room,” Hall said.
Delaware State offensive line coach Jeff Braxton called it a “classroom closet.”
Raimond cleaned out the weight room, taking the hammer strength machines apart and rearranging them so there was space to walk around. He taped off sections for athletes that would normally have Olympic weight lifting platforms, just so athletes could get their bearings.
Delaware State’s head coach, Al Lavan, who died in 2018, spearheaded an effort to raise money for a new strength facility, with Raimond having a say in its equipment and design.
“Now it’s about the Taj Mahal, it’s 10,000 square feet and one of the bigger weight rooms on the east coast,” Braxton said.
Raimond implemented a regimented strength program for athletes to follow. Hall and Braxton believe that’s what led to the program’s success, starting with a 7-4 season, the Hornets’ first winning season since 2000. They went 8-3 in 2006, then 10-2 in 2007, the most wins the school had in a single season at the time.
“He brought in credibility from two major Division I universities and accountability to the kids,” Hall said. “He’s a silent assassin, he would look at these kids and they would know, like, ’I could step it up.’ He’s not a screamer. He's not a yeller. I think kids appreciated that.”
Compared to position coaches, athletes actually spend most of their time with their strength coach. Raimond said January through March is his busiest time with the most intense training phase for his athletes, with strength also sprinkled in spring ball.
The fall is more focused on the game with a few conditioning sessions each week. No matter what time of year, Braithwaite is a constant person the athletes interact with, playing a key role in their development on and off the field.
"He’s kind of like a chameleon, he can kind of relate to everybody from different walks of life,“ Braxton said. ”You can be from Texas, he can relate to it, you could be from New York City, he can relate to you.“
Once you crack his shell, friends of Braithwaite said he’s a funny guy. Braxton said weigh-ins were on Mondays and Fridays, with the Monday weigh-in always being tougher to make weight after a fun weekend.
Raimond made it a guessing game with Braxton, saying under his breath who he knew would and wouldn’t make weight. It’s one of Braxton’s favorite memories working with him.
“Every time a guy would get ready to get on the scale, Rai would look at me and say, ’Ah, I don’t think he’s going to make weight this week,’” Braxton said. “Coach Lavan would be yelling at me and I knew he was going to. Rai would try to make me feel good and say, ’Coach, don’t worry, I’ll get him down.’”
Back to Iowa
Braithwaite returned to Iowa in 2008, working under Chris Doyle before Doyle agreed to leave Iowa following an ongoing lawsuit with allegations of racial misconduct.
Braithwaite took over as interim head strength coach last season and was recently dismissed as a defendant in the suit.
“I said, ’In life, things are gonna happen and nobody's gonna remember the circumstance, they’re gonna remember at the end how you behaved,’” Federico said he told Raimond following Doyle’s departure.
In a news conference on April 13, Iowa junior wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. said while the fundamental programming hasn’t changed since Doyle left, Braithwaite’s demeanor has changed the culture.
“He doesn't have to yell to get the point across, and he lets the leaders on the team take action,” Tracy said. “That's one of the things that Rai has changed. He made sure everyone on the team is helping everyone on the team.
“There's a saying that he says, ’Each one, teach one.’“
Raimond married his wife, Jenny, in 2014. He now has two older stepchildren, son Conner and daughter Cameron, and two younger biological children, Maxine and Kingston. Before the pandemic, he said his family would come by the weight room during his off hours to visit.
When he first got the interview for the Iowa job in 2002, Raimond had no familial connections to the Midwest, but with no job prospects, he saw it as an opportunity.
“I had a bunch of preconceived notions about it, you just picture cornfields in small towns," he said. ”You get off the plane, there’s cornfields and it is bitterly cold. But the biggest thing was the people. That’s what keeps me here and what made me want to come back.“
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