Lia Pett blazed a record-breaking path from orphanage to top-notch athlete

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Lia Pett blazed a record-breaking path from orphanage to top-notch athlete

A Good Pett:

A Good Pett: "When I was young, I was really shy," said Lia Pett.

A Good Pett: "When I was young, I was really shy," said Lia Pett.

A Good Pett: "When I was young, I was really shy," said Lia Pett.

The Southerner

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A Good Pett: “When I was young, I was really shy,” said Lia Pett.


Mondays and Wednesdays cross country. Tuesdays and Thursdays, swimming. Saturday is an invitational or swim meet. Sunday is dedicated to a day at the gym.

This is not the typical schedule that one would associate with a 16 year-old girl: shopping and boys are usually the trending topics. But, then again, Lia Pett is far from the typical teenager.

 Growing up

Lia was adopted from Zhanjiang China in 1998: she was two.

“When I was young, I was really shy. And the transition from being adopted to being in a totally social and in an outgoing society, it made me really overwhelmed,” Pett said.

She became shy, and isolated herself. Her adoptive mother, Adele Cohen, agrees. She describes Lia at a young age as “sweet and inquiring.” But she was nervous around people she didn’t know.

“I used to sit in the corner, by myself, and I’d look at the wall. Like I wouldn’t even play, I wouldn’t even face the game; I would just sit facing the corner of a wall,” she said.

Still, and even today, she has a hard time meeting new people. You can see little signs of this; for example, when she’s walking through the cafeteria. If her main group of friends isn’t there, she has a difficult time reaching out to people. She will swallow the anxiety rising in her gut and force herself to sit down with a group here, some friends there, or, she will lurk off into a classroom, occasionally the library, to finish work.

Lia has an older sister: Molly Pett, who is currently 23, and attends Georgia Tech. Molly was like Lia’s teddy bear.  “I found comfort in having somebody I knew really well with me. I like to know my surroundings: I don’t like things where I don’t know what’s going to happen. Because, being adopted, you don’t always know what’s going to happen. This is a totally new lifestyle.”

And a new lifestyle it was.

“She looked scared, and I didn’t blame her,” Adele Cohen said.

Lia does not know who her biological parents are. But to Lia, it is all the same. “Your parents are the people who raise you,” she said.

In November 2009, when she visited the orphanage, she discovered that her files had been thrown away. This means that the period of life, up until she was two (when she was adopted), is unknown. At first, yes, she was disturbed by the thought of her “real parents” giving her up, throwing her to the wind. But, with her age, came wisdom. She now realizes how lucky she is to be in a loving and kind family. And as she became more comfortable at her new home, she became totally fine with not knowing who her birth parents were. “I mean, I am curious, but I know that everything happens for a reason.” Lia said.

Love of her life

We walk through the door. There is a man, dark skin with a long ponytail, sitting at a desk to our left. As I follow Lia, we pass a vending machine and take a right into the girl’s locker room. It’s pretty quiet; we pass through another door to enter the main area of the locker room. Here, there is a little more action. Her friends are awaiting her; she introduces me to some of them. They all wear similar swimsuits: bright colors, intricate and bold patterns … I think they called them “Uglies.” It doesn’t smell quite like chlorine, but the floor is wet with something.

Lia shows me to the pool deck, and this is when the waft of chlorinated water hits my nose. It’s pretty dark, and very humid. To the left is a bench, the right a supply closet. Above us is a stadium. Lia scatters off to see more people: they are getting ready for the grueling workout ahead, putting caps on. Her coaches, Melissa and Mike, come over and give the group a run- through of what they will be doing at practice today: a 400 hundred swim, four 100s of kick drills (50 free), four 50s of something I can’t make out, and four 25 sprints of each stroke. And then they begin their main course. To my disbelief, that was only the warm up.

Lia is in between the sprint and distance groups. She does sets that are timed: six two-hundred in three minutes, which she tells me they do to elongate their stroke and maintain their pace.

Of course, they did dry land before this. (This consists of running, medicine balls, weights, and abdominal work outs.) “So we only swam for an hour and a half,” Pett said, as if it was nothing at all. Then there’s a cool down, and by that time, everyone is pretty tired, as they should be at the end of a two and a half hour workout. The pool becomes quiet, the kicking and fluttering of kicks seize.

But there’s more…

She does Grady cross country and Grady swim team on the days she doesn’t swim for her competitive team, DAQ. “I think I’ve broken like all the records,” she gets out between giggles. She was the only freshman to go to state last year, and is the fastest on the team. She usually doesn’t go to Grady practices: if she does, it’s on a cool-down day. “Last year I had to teach people. I didn’t get anything out of it, but really it’s just fun.”

Because of her knee problems, she is only able to go to cross country practice once a week. Not including Saturdays, when she goes to invitationals. This is when the top seven runners on the team are invited to compete. Jeff Cramer, the head coach of the team, is fond of Lia.

“Lia is a hard worker; she trains on her own and competes on her own. She has an engaging personality and is fun to have on the team,” Cramer said. Lia is in the top seven runners on the team, and is faster than most of the other girls: even with her sore knees. “Lia has a unique sense of humor and laugh. She is a positive influence on the whole team.”

Oh, and she does triathlons too. “I do pretty well; I always normally rank in my age group. I’m pretty amateur though.” She does really well in all three sports, but swimming is where she clearly excels. Her first triathlon was at age 9, and she has done about 10 since.

“Her real passion is with triathlons – she wants to keep doing those and perhaps pursuing that as her main sport,” Adele said. Which are, ironically enough, three different sports.

She gets awards like “Most important swimmer” and was the first freshman to go to state in Grady swimming. She is aware that she has broken most of the records, although doesn’t know which ones specifically. She was one of the two freshmen to make the state cross country meet. As for her competitive swimming team, she is AA: the highest you can get is AAA, and she says she is off by less than a second. In triathlons, she normally gets first, second, or third … and this is without specific training in this area.








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