NEWPORT BEACH - When you see Staciana Stitts walk confidently
alongside a swimming pool, your first reaction is to think about
Here's a swimmer who is completely bald. A female. She has no body
hair. One's athletic instinct is to believe she has shaved to render a
hydrodynamic advantage as she prepares for the U.S. Olympic swimming
But Stitts, 18, is always this way. And has been since age 12, when
her hair started falling out.
"I was just brushing my hair one night," Stitts said, "and it kept
coming out of my brush and hair was on my pillow that night. Then I
started showing bald spots and a couple of doctors said, 'Oh, yeah, you
have alopecia. We don't know why it happens or what causes it.' They said
you're perfectly healthy and don't have to worry. You're just not going
to have any hair."
Easy for them to say. But for a seventh grader with common peer
pressure, try showing up to school the first day.
Stitts tried special creams, but refused cortisone injections that
were offered to bolster her chances of having hair grow back.
"I didn't want to mess with any more creams ... and most (doctors)
said you have to be dependent on the creams if your hair grows in," she
said. "I just decided to deal with (the hair loss). My dad just said to
shave (my head), because it's all falling off, anyway.
"I would stare in the mirror and just cry. Here I was 12 and had no
hair ... I was really confused. I'd never heard of (alopecia) before.
"It took me a year to realize who I was and accepted it."
This summer, Stitts is staying in Newport Beach with her good friend
and Irvine Novaquatics teammate, Amy Murphy, a former Newport Harbor High
aquatics standout who will be a freshman at the University of Nevada Reno
in the fall.
Stitts, who just completed her freshman year at UC Berkeley, is ranked
No. 3 in the nation in the women's 100-meter breaststroke and No. 8 in
the world, with dreams of making this year's U.S. Olympic team at the
2000 Sydney Games.
From a 12-year-old girl who would understandably wear hats and scarfs
to hide her head to a highly self-confident Olympic hopeful, Stitts has
gone to great lengths in and out of the pool.
"In swimming," she said, "you couldn't wear wigs ... swimming helped
me to learn how to present myself from the inside and not the outside.
Swimming helped me get over the trauma of not having hair when I was
Stitts, who recently had a strong showing at the Janet Evans
Invitational, will compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team at the
swim trials in Indianapolis Aug. 9-16.
Stitts, who also stayed at the Murphy's house last summer while
training with the Novaquatics, said living near her swim teammates has
also been good for her social life.
But if she makes the Olympic team and performs well in Sydney, imagine
the attention Stitts will draw from her unusual condition.
Stitts, who once had to stand up to her peers and force them to deal
with her, could put "alopecia universalis" on a worldwide stage. "I hope
so," she said.
Stitts won a national title for the first time last year, when she
finished first in the 50 freestyle at the spring nationals. In the summer
of '99, she set the Pan American Games record in the 100 breaststroke (1:09.16), the seventh-fastest time in the world last year.
Included in the field, during her victory at the Janet Evans
Invitational in 1:09.49, were Amy Balcerzak, who finished second, and
1996 Olympian Amanda Beard. Balcerzak won the breaststroke at the 1999
World University games, while Beard was the silver medalist at the