Virgen: Rulon enjoys motivating

It's been eight months since the U.S. women's water polo team won its first gold medal. The celebration, praise and admiration hasn't died down, definitely not in Newport Beach.

Kelly Rulon, a U.S. team member, feels the love practically everywhere she goes, especially when she has her gold medal with her.

Such was the case Friday morning when she visited Newport Heights Elementary, where she helped promote Newport Beach Water Polo and the Newport Beach Swimming Club programs.

Rulon, who said she just moved to Newport Beach this week, is the girls' 14-and-under coach for the Newport Beach Water Polo club. The 28-year-old was away from the pool deck and on the playground at Newport Heights on Friday.

She appeared just as thrilled as the children when she saw them in awe of her gold medal. Lots of love.

"My life has been something out of a dream," Rulon said, describing her time after winning gold with Team USA. "I've been traveling since this past August, just doing different appearances, different events, different charity events, clinics and camps, all over the United States and the world. It's been so amazing and fun, and exciting to see the support that your country and the water polo community have for you."

Rulon won bronze with the Americans in the 2004 Olympic games. She gained notoriety, just as the rest of the U.S. team, for appearing in ESPN The Magazine's "The Body Issue" in 2010.

These days she maintains a busy schedule that now includes coaching. She's new to the profession, but she said she enjoys it.

"It's amazing," Rulon said. "It's really a rewarding job that I'm happy to do. I enjoy going to work every day. I enjoy working with the kids, seeing them learn new things not just about water polo, but life experiences as well."

Rulon did not speak formally to the large group of students, but she was very engaging with the kids who approached to meet her.

Several posed for photos with the gold medal.

Gus Oeding, 10, son of Chris Oeding, the two-time Olympic star and former Corona del Mar High standout, was one of those awestruck kids.

"It was pretty exciting," Gus said of holding the Olympic gold medal and posing for a photo.

At such a young age, Gus is just happy to play sports. There is great purity in that. In addition to swimming he also plays soccer.

Who knows what the future holds. The intensity of pushing yourself to the limit for the sake of prowess and goals can wait. For now it's all about being a kid.

"It's really fun," Gus said of swimming.

Rulon wants to inspire the kids and motivate the players on her team. She knows first-hand what it takes to become an Olympic athlete.

She was sweet to everyone on Friday, but she admits she has a different side to her when she is coaching. She holds her players to a high standard.

"I think I'm pretty strict actually," Rulon said of her coaching style. "I think the girls needed a little bit of time getting adjusted to my coaching style because I demand 100% effort. Regardless if you're talented or not, it doesn't matter, but if you don't work hard I get upset. I just want the girls to come to practice every day and give it 110%. Whether or not they score goals or if they have a good game it's OK. But if they're not giving it their all and they're not excited and committed to being there then that's what disappoints me. I'm trying to instill hard work and dedication."

Rulon, who began coaching in December, said she has thought about applying for a few high school coaching jobs. But those are just thoughts, as she remains content coaching with Newport Beach Water Polo.

She's part of an impressive coaching staff that also includes Marco Palazzo, a 2012 U.S. men's Olympic team assistant coach, and NBWP Director Robert Lynn, the Newport Harbor High boys' coach who was an assistant for the men's Olympic team twice and a player once. Palazzo also appeared at Newport Heights. The NBWP staff also has Tony Bell, a former UC Irvine All-American, and former Newport Harbor standout Clay Jorth, according to its website.

"I hope you kids are interested in swimming and water polo," Lynn told the students during his pitch about his program.

Lynn can be fiery and volatile as a coach who brings out the best in his players, but it appears he usually knows the time and place for it. He was friendly Friday morning, and excited about the future of the NBWP and Newport Beach Swimming Club programs.

"I think we have been going in a good direction," Lynn said. "Our staff is wonderful. They have so much knowledge. They have a lot of passion for what they are doing. Working with kids is special. We all remember when we were kids and how much we looked up to some of our mentors and had so much fun. It kept us involved with aquatics programs.

"We just want to kind of reach out to the area and just make them aware of what we have during the year. Everything is gradually growing. We're heading in the right direction."

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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