Virgen: Aaron Peirsol to start work as Newport Beach lifeguard on Saturday


Newport Harbor High inducted its inaugural class into its Hall of Fame in a special ceremony Thursday in the school’s Main Theater.

There was one Backstroke King missing from the 10 former student-athletes who were honored. But Aaron Peirsol wasn’t offended that he wasn’t in the Hall of Fame’s first class. Honestly.

Peirsol, the five-time Olympic gold medalist as a swimmer, enjoys his life on the peninsula in Newport Beach. He has been busy preparing for a fun, yet rigorous job.

Peirsol will start work as a Newport Beach lifeguard Saturday. For those who know him, and I am among the fortunate, they can say, “That’s so Aaron.”

He loves the water and fills his day with activities, such as surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. As a junior lifeguard as a kid, he idolized Newport Beach lifeguards and had always dreamed of becoming one.

There might be a chance this news could go national from a column in a community newspaper, but Aaron would rather the attention be minimal. He just wants to be one of the lifeguards.

At first, he didn’t want to be quoted for this column. But once I told him I would write with or without his voice, he agreed.

That also is so Aaron.

“It’s one of the most natural things for me in the world,” Peirsol said of becoming a lifeguard. “I want to do this because of the respect I have for the local environment. I feel like I always had something drawing me to being a lifeguard. It’s exciting for me. It really is something I wanted to do since I was a kid. It’s a huge part of who I am. I’ve always looked up to those guys. They love what they do. How can you not dig that? I’m looking forward to this for sure.”

Peirsol shared his idea to become a seasonal lifeguard with his friend Ross Sinclair, a former Newport Harbor water polo standout who is now the Corona del Mar High girls’ water polo coach. Sinclair is also a seasonal lifeguard.

To become a lifeguard, Sinclair said, Peirsol had to try out and perform a 1,000-meter swim, 300-meter swim and 300-meter run trial.

I don’t think Peirsol had a problem with that.

He also sat among a lifeguard board for an oral interview. Peirsol at 30 remains as well-spoken, down-to-earth and charming since the days I first covered him while at Newport Harbor.

The Newport Beach Lifeguard Department will no doubt benefit from this hire.

Starting pay for a rookie lifeguard like Peirsol is $17.10 per hour, said Brent Jacobsen, the Newport Beach Lifeguard battalion chief.

He would not comment for this column and kindly directed me to the city’s public information officer and wished me luck.

I’m sure Jacobsen would say something similar to what Sinclair told me. Sinclair was happy to hear Peirsol wanted to be a Newport Beach lifeguard. Sinclair told his friend, “You’re exactly what the department needs.”

“He’s a real talented waterman and knows the ocean real well,” Sinclair said of his friend. “He’s not just a pool guy. This is going to be awesome.”

Peirsol, who retired from competitive swimming in February of 2011, was a star at Newport Harbor, leading the boys’ swim team to its first and only CIF Southern Section Division I championship. He only became better on the Olympic scene, winning gold medals and setting world records in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke. He remains the world-record holder in both events.

He also won two Olympic silver medals and several world championships.

“That’s the best thing about Aaron: he’s so humble about it,” Sinclair said. “People are going to have no idea that they’re going to be rescued by a world-record holder. It’s neat. It’s cool for the department and for the city and it says a lot about him. He’s a great guy. It doesn’t surprise me.”

It’s so Aaron.