The 15-year-old girl from Aurora, Illinois was diagnosed with alopecia areata at the age of 6. The diagnosis is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss.
As Hayes adjusts to life without hair, she hides her condition at school with wigs and hats, but she never hides her hair loss around her family of Auroras Fox Valley Riptides swimming team its support.
For Riptides’ longtime coach Nancy Hooper, Hayes’ hair loss was never really an issue.
“She can always be herself here. She’s always been Leah to me, I didn’t even know she’d ever had a wig,” Hooper said.
In fact, Hooper credits Hayes’ strength and perseverance in dealing with hair loss that has made her an even stronger and more active athlete. Hooper added that “Leah’s intrinsic motivation coupled with great talent, hard work, and solid coaching have put the teenager in the class of America’s elite swimmers”.
When Hooper watched Hayes win for the first time seven years ago, Hooper knew she had remarkable abilities. H
“We took her in the water and it took less than a minute to see for sure there was something different about your child normally saying, ‘I want to join my swim team.'” Hooper said.
Within two years of swimming for Hooper, Hayes had really begun to make a name for himself as a contender at the USA Swimming.
“My first national age group record was 200 freestyles when I was 10 years old,” says Hayes.
However, Hayes would go on to set many more records, in fact, her father, Tim Hayes, said the teen set six national age group records in a single swim at Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis.
“It’s difficult to set a national age group record,” Hooper explained. “That means no one in the history of the sport has crossed that event faster.”
Hayes’ achievements soon attracted national media attention. Sports Illustrated Kids nominated Hayes as their “SportsKid of the Year” in 2018. She eventually won that honor and appeared on the cover of the magazine.
Her Riptides teammates surprised her with that news and a poster-sized version of the actual magazine cover on a practice day at Auroras Vaughn Sports Center.
Riptides’ teammates were once again at Hayes’ side as they recently surprised her by being dispatched to the June 2021 Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska. Hayes had an impressive showing, competing in 400 IM, 200 IM and 100 Freestyle but failed to make it to Team USA for the Tokyo games.
Hooper said this was a valuable training experience for Hayes.
“We talked about the next Olympic trials. We wanted to do the next tests in a much more aggressive way,” Hooper said.
For now, Hayes will maintain a rigorous training regimen with Riptides. As for her Olympic aspirations, the sophomore in high school said, ‘It’s been my dream since I started swimming.
“She amazes me every time I get in the pool. Anything can happen,” said Jill, Hayes’ mother.
https://abc7chicago.com/aurora-swimmer-alopecia-olympic/10887100/ | Teenage swimmer Aurora breaks hair loss record, Leah Hayes, creates an inspiring trail in the pool