Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week: Aaron Peirsol

Steve Virgen

There has been one constant trait of Aaron Peirsol throughout his

glorious year of 2002.

Aaron Peirsol has been Aaron Peirsol.

This is important in pressure situations because Peirsol, who is

definitely unique, uses his happy-go-lucky attitude to remain calm. Such

was the case in the CIF Southern Section Division I Finals Friday, when

Peirsol displayed the ultimate farewell.

"I'm still the same kid, the same guy who goofs around," Peirsol said

before he won his fourth straight CIF Division I title in the 100-yard

backstroke.

The Daily Pilot of the Week also won the 200 freestyle and contributed

anchor swims in the victorious 200 free relay and the school-record

breaking 400 free relay, leading the Sailors to their first-ever CIF team

title in swimming.

The senior, bound for the University of Texas, owns seven CIF

individual titles. He nearly broke the national public school record in

the 100 back (47.50) with his personal-best 47.69 and almost broke the

Division I record in the 200 free (1:35.55) with his 1:35.87.

After his performance he jumped back in the pool, celebrating with his

coach, Jason Lynch, and his teammates.

It may be hard to believe, but it's true: Peirsol, after breaking the

world record in the 200-meter backstroke March 20 and breaking two

short-course world records in the 200 back and 200 medley relay April 7,

still enjoys a pizza party with friends. He's still an eclectic music

lover, who especially likes to listen to Led Zeppelin. He still enjoys

laughing out loud.

Yes, he's that kid who passed up Sea View League individual titles so

that he could live it up in the Bahamas.

"It was such a fun trip," Peirsol said of his trip to tape a show for

Nickelodeon. "There was scuba diving, jet skiing, snorkeling and swimming

with dolphins. It really taught me a thing or two about swimming."

Of course, Peirsol was joking about learning from the dolphins. That's

just his style.

It's that same personality that has made him such a pleasure to be

around for his Newport swim teammates.

"The whole experience with Aaron has been something that I won't

forget," said Newport sophomore Michael Bury, who's also a Tar water polo

standout. "Even though he's an Olympian, he's still really down to earth

and very modest."

Perhaps, one of the reasons Peirsol is so down to earth is because he

has found his niche, his calling, so to speak.

Peirsol was made for swimming.

Ever since he became to know the sport as a child he knew he had found

his love.

"I like the water and I was good at a young age," Peirsol said. "I was

really competitive at that age. I also love the beach and I can never

argue with winning."

The awards piled up for Aaron Peirsol. And along came the confidence.

When he was 7 years old, his family visited the U.S. Swimming Hall of

Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla, where he promised his mother, Wella, he

would break a world record and enter The Hall.

At age 10, he met the coach, Dave Salo, who led the young Peirsol on

the path to stardom. When Peirsol was 13, Salo, the head man of Irvine

Novaquatics believed Peirsol should focus on the backstroke.

"I felt the door was wide open for him in the backstroke," Salo said.

"When I told him he could break the world record, I don't know if he

believed it. But that's when it started. He did eventually start to

believe."

Peirsol's body grew into a swimmer. His training brought about speed

and strength. But Peirsol needed to believe.

"I felt I had been capable to break the (world) record (in the

200-meter back), physically," Peirsol said. "It was just more of a mental

thing. (Salo has) kept me on track and kept me in line. He also coaches

the mind."

Peirsol also said every coach he has been involved with has made a

strong impact on his life, including Coach Lynch.

"All my coaches have meant so much to me," Peirsol said.

Conversely, Peirsol has also made an impact on Newport swimming and on

his coach. It's practically a given that the Sailors will not win a CIF

team title next year because Peirsol will be in Texas.

"I don't know if we can (win CIF) again," Lynch said. "It's pretty

impossible to replace Peirsol."

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