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Peirsol riding refreshing wave at Newport Harbor
The large straw hat and sunglasses offered protection from the sun but briefly hid his identity Saturday afternoon before the boys Millikan Southern Section Relays. But as he approached, the embroidered name on his shirt gave him away.
In his typical low-key and humble style, five-time Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder Aaron Peirsol made his debut as the coach-of-record for his alma mater, Newport Harbor.
Peirsol strolled the pool deck at the Joint Forces Training Base with a clipboard. He talked to his swimmers and coaches with a smile and ease that characterized a hall of fame career. And when the sun was gone, so were his hat and sunglasses.
“He’s easy to talk to,” Newport Harbor swimmer Dominik Folkner said of Peirsol. “He really knows how to (relate) with a swimmer at a personal level.”
For Peirsol, 31, that’s easy.
“It’s the same group of guys that I went through school with, just a different (age),” he said Saturday.
“(They all have) various interests. The whole gamut. (Water) polo guys, swimmers, guys who love the ocean, junior guards, lifeguards. … I’m actually kind of jealous right now. These guys are going to have a good day."
Arguably the greatest backstroker in history, Peirsol has jumped into the pool during practices but his racing days over. However, the spirit of his Olympic triumphs lives on. Folkner said before Saturday’s meet, Peirsol shared a story of racing the medley relay on the final day of the 2004 Olympics.
“He basically knows everything about swimming,” Folkner said.
Peirsol wants to share his knowledge. Newport Harbor is his first coaching job.
“I really feel blessed to do it,” he said. “It’s at my alma mater. I had some time to be able to help and they kind of were in need of some help. …For me, it couldn’t be more appropriate right now.”
Peirsol resides in Newport Beach and has a few other interests, too. He hopes to lifeguard this summer and is an investor/supporter for a new indoor swim school, Evolution Swim Academy, in Mission Viejo.
For the school, he has partnered with former swimmers Felipe Delgado, Gabe Woodward, Larsen Jensen (Mission Viejo) and Derya Buyukuncu (Woodbridge). Delgado, the founder of the school, Woodward, Peirsol and Buyukuncu each swam for the Irvine Novaquatics club.
Peirsol hasn’t worked for Oceana, an organization that aims to protect oceans, for a while but the cause also remains one of his many passions.
“A lot of it surrounds the water – what do you know?” he said with a laugh of his interests.
Peirsol’s grass-roots approach is another common thread. While his draw as a seven-time Olympic medalist and current world-record holder could be national, he enjoys making personal connections and an impact at the local level. Like at Newport Harbor High.
“It’s about them,” he said of his swimmers. “These guys are probably teaching me more than I could ever teach them, to be honest. ... Their love for this lifestyle is very broad and in that way, very healthy. I think it's what swimming and water sports used to be a long, long time ago."
And in his own way, Coach Aaron is helping ensure those days don't dissolve.
MEETS OF THE WEEK
Dana Hills’ boys play host to San Clemente on Tuesday in an intriguing South Coast League opener. On Thursday, JSerra girls play host to Mater Dei in a Trinity League showdown. And on Saturday, the girls Millikan Southern Section Relays finals will be held at the JFTB at 5 p.m. The Mission Viejo Invitational also highlights the Saturday schedule.