High School swimmer pursued her dreams despite debilitating heart defect
Mtn. Crest's swim coach at the time was Yolanda Bates, who is now an assistant at BYU. She never knew Gittins had a heart defect, and the teen she'd hired to help her teach young children to swim never offered it as an excuse.
It wasn't until Hailie told Bates she'd be having surgery that the coach understood the girl's struggles.
"I had never had an athlete that had such a condition before," Bates said. "We thought it would be the end of her swimming."
Instead, Bates came up with special workouts for Gittins so she could ease back into the sport she loved.
"We started slow," said Bates. "She kind of did really well right off, but we had to be careful. She just never could get up to the volume and intensity at was required of her. And yet, she qualified for state."
Hailie — who slept with oxygen and took daily medications — had to be careful, and Bates said there "were a couple of scary moments because she'd push herself." But through it all, she admired the teen's determination.
"She is intense and extremely responsible and committed and loyal and obedient," said Bates, who met the bus from Mtn. Crest to greet her former athletes. She and Hailie embraced in a tearful reunion.
"She is dear to my heart," the coach said.
Now a senior, Hailie qualified for state in a medley relay and the 100-meter breast stroke. She competed for the last time as a Mustang Saturday night, and while she didn't break any records or win any medals, her participation is a victory for a lot of people.
When she feels frustrated by what her body won't let her do, she hears the reassurances of her coach and her parents.
"Yolanda helped me a lot," said Utah State-bound senior, who now hopes to teach and coach swimming someday. "She just always told me, 'Do what you can do, you are amazing anyway.' My parents were the same, and they always made sure I knew they were proud of me."
The Gittins said pride and gratitude overwhelm them when they see what their daughter has accomplished.
"Every time she swims, I cry," Stacie said. "You can't live your life always wondering what might happen."
The family is grateful to diligent doctors, who also understood the value of sports in the life of a young girl. They consider themselves blessed most especially to have found Dr. Day, whose children also swim.
"Every time we go to Primary's, your heart breaks thinking, 'How did we get so lucky to get a cardiologist who understood Hailie and helped us?'" Stacie said. "He's one in a million and we feel it was some kind of inspiration."
Hailie said just considering her life without swimming was devastating.
"I wouldn't have known what to do," she said on the eve of her final high school race. "It has taught me how to work really hard and how to be dedicated to something. You need to learn to set goals, otherwise, you're not going to get where you want to go."