By Norm Frauenheim
Winnipeg, Canada – Just when the United States needed to show a little fight, two fighters arrived. First, there was Karen Campbell, a black belt in tae-kwon-do. She delivered the opening shot in the women’s 100m butterfly with a Pan American Games record time of 59.70 in Thursday morning’s preliminaries. She capped it off in the evening’s final with a gold medal-winning time of 1:00.05.
Then, there was Staciana Stitts, who has been battling a disease, alopacia, that results in the loss of her hair. She delivered Thursday’s second blow with a record-setting swim of 1:09.16 for the gold medal in the 100m breaststroke.
For Campbell, the performance was a surprise, even for U.S. women’s assistant coach Jill Sterkel, who held the old record, 1:00.53, for 20 years. “That made me feel old,” Sterkel said. “I didn’t even remember that I had the record, or even that I won the 100 fly back then. That’s called old-timers’ disease.”
Sterkel, in fact, said she hardly knew Campbell, who didn’t start swimming in her hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich., until she was in the ninth grade. But she entered the pool with lots of discipline.
“The whole concept of mind-over-matter that I was taught in tae-kwon-do has helped me tremendously in my ability to focus on swimming,” said Campbell, who beat two Canadians, silver-medalist Jessica Deglau (1:00.70) and bronze-medalist Karine Chevrie (1:01.15).
Not long after Campbell stepped off the victory stand, Stitts went to work on shattering the old Pan Am record in the 100m breaststroke by more than a full second. The mark, 1:10.30, was set in 1991 in Havanna. As Stitts went to claim her medal, she was asked if she had shaved for the meet.
“Didn’t have to,” she giggled. Then, she went to explain alopecia. “It’s a condition where you hair falls out, and I’ve had it about five years now,” she said. “It’s beneficial to swimming. It actually helps.”