Olympic swimming: A swimmer's shave, always

Richard Dunn

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

Atlanta Games.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World