U.S. swimmer Staciana Stitts wins with confidence

Credit: Michael Stockman/Allsport
In April, when Staciana Stitts walked into the Indiana University Natatorium for the NCAA championships, the first thing she noticed were the names of the last three U.S. Olympic swim teams painted on walls.

"My jaw just dropped, said the University of California Berkley sophomore. I had never been at that pool and I was completely awed by seeing those names painted on the walls.

Stitts, who was second in the 100-meter breaststroke and part of a world-record-breaking 200-meter medley relay team (1:49.23) in the NCAAs, looked at the Olympic Trials, which were recently held at the same pool, a little differently than some might think.

"Im really going into the trials viewing it as a big party and just enjoying myself and having a lot of fun with the team, Stitts said a week before the trials. "My parents, brothers and my aunts and uncles are going to be there, so theyll be a lot of support. I think it will allow me to forget about the stress of the Olympic Trials and just pretend its a regular meet and go in and have fun.

Each time a U.S. Trials meet is held at IU, the names of the new Olympic team is painted on the wall. The next time Stitts walks into the Natatorium shell see her name in paint.

Stitts "lets have a party" attitude earned her a trip to the biggest party of her life. A second-place finish in the 100-meter breaststroke qualified her for the U.S. Olympic swim team in the event. She finished at 1:08.78 behind Meghan Quanns 1:07.12. Quann will celebrate her 18th birthday in Sydney on Sept. 12.

Stitts, who is from Southern California, has certainly had a lot of fun and a lot of success in her swimming career. Last summer she won a gold medal in the 100-meter breastroke at the Pan Am Games, where she was also part of Cals 400-meter medley relay team that set a meet record.

She was a junior national champion in 1997 and the California High School state champion in 1998 in both the 100- and 200-meter breastroke.

On a personal level, Stitts has had to deal with the disease alopecia, which both she and her coaches believe has made her a stronger person both in and out of the pool.

Alopecia is a condition that causes body hair to fall out, and there is no known treatment or cure that will stop it.

Stitts developed the disease back in the seventh grade.

"The first year I wore a hat all the time," Stitts said. "I never had a wig because of swimming, but I always had a hat. It didnt help me. It hurt me because I was hiding behind a hat and not dealing with it.

Sixth months later, Stitts hair started to grow back.

"I was so excited, but then it fell out again right before eighth grade," Stitts said. "Thats when I said, Just forget it' and I shaved off the rest of it and Ive done that ever since. I just accepted it and because I did other people had to do the same."

"Its something she learned to deal with a long time ago, said Dave Salo, who has coached Stitts for the last three years as a member of the Novaquatics of Irvine, Calif. I think because she is able to rise above a very obvious malady if you want to call it that it probably enhances her ability to compete.

"You have a young lady who can deal with being completely bald, she can certainly deal with the pressures of competitive swimming pretty well, Salo said. Its probably made her a little tougher.

By watching Stitts at the trials, the way she carries herself around her teammates, youd think she was blonde bombshell.

"My parents say I was born with it, but this (losing my hair) has made me a lot stronger, Stitts said. I had to have confidence in swimming, being able to walk around without hair. I have gained strength from swimming and that has carried over into my life. "The best thing you can do is have confidence in yourself, Stitts said. If you have that, you can get through anything, especially if youre an athlete. If youre an athlete or you have a special talent that sets you apart, then people will respect you for that rather than your appearance.

Stitts comes from a very athletic family and is a natural in the water.

"I was swimming in my mothers womb," said Stitts, who noted that her mother, Judy, did indeed swim during all four of her pregnancies. Both she and her husband Dane have done a lot of recreational swimming over the year.

Staciana's older sister Alisha swims for the University of Iowa, where she will be a senior in the fall. And her two brothers, Curtis (11) and Josef (9), swim with the Novaquatics.

Stitts has found UC Berkeley a wonderful home away from home.

"I love it there, its the best place for me," she said. It feels comfortable because there is no 'normal.' Everything is unique, but it doesnt feel weird. Im kind of a unique individual, not having hair, and Im comfortable with it.

In her bio for USA Swimming, Stitts lists her favorite quote from Lyn Yutang, which seems to sum up her life:

"Champion the right to be yourself. Dare to be different and set your pattern: Live your own life and follow your own star."

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