Virgen: Hartig comes full circle

Virgen's View

October 19, 2013|By Steve Virgen
(Courtesy of Wella…)

Wella Hartig, the mother of Aaron and Hayley Peirsol, smiles when she talks about the three spots she'll speak at within six days.

The Newport Beach YMCA, Newport Harbor High and Woollett Aquatic Center are meaningful sites to her, a chance for her to go down "memory lane," as she put it. They are places that are in the background of her book, "Buoyant: How Water and Willpower Helped Wella to Channel Aaron and Hayley Peirsol." She wrote it with Laura Cottam Sajbel.

She said she came full circle on Friday as she spoke to a small group at the Newport Beach YMCA, where it all began for Hartig.

She talked about her book, her past, the personalities of her Olympic gold-medal, record-breaking swimmer of a son and the once-star distance swimmer turned triathlete turned educator of a daughter.

"It's not the athletes they are who I am proud of but it's the people who they've become from this sport," Hartig said.


Covering Aaron and getting to know him has been among the highlights of my career, and it isn't because he won five Olympic gold medals and is the world-record holder in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke.

Aaron is genuine and his down-to-earth, humble personality is refreshing. Hayley is a very sweet woman and was an energetic, outgoing girl when I met her while covering Newport Harbor aquatics. My heart broke when I heard she had experienced a break-in that rocked her and eventually affected her competitiveness while at Auburn.

But through the support of family and friends, Hayley overcame the adversity.

She and Aaron are very close, like best friends, Hartig said Friday night.

The two grew up without their biological father, yet gathered guidance from Wella and their stepfather, Tim Hartig, who was also in attendance Friday night.

Wella spoke about the motivation Aaron gathered at a young age. When he was around 10, Aaron asked his mother to take him to an art supplies store. He wanted to make a poster of a special quote and place it on the ceiling above his bed.

"Only with adversity comes greatness."

She said she cried that night when Aaron put the quote above his bed. She thought maybe he wanted to prove to his dad that he can accomplish great feats without him.

Wella spoke about her adversity that's also in her book.

"My story is a real complex one," she said. "I did not have it easy."

She said she is usually not comfortable speaking in front of people, but her desire to tell her story calmed her.

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