Water Can Be Just As Thick as Blood

Greenbriar's Maggie Shaw, left, Justine Ferrari, Leigh Siegfried and Kacey Norwood prepare for a Northern Virginia Swimming League All-Star race that Olivia Aull would have participated in.
Greenbriar's Maggie Shaw, left, Justine Ferrari, Leigh Siegfried and Kacey Norwood prepare for a Northern Virginia Swimming League All-Star race that Olivia Aull would have participated in. (By Pouya Dianat -- The Washington Post)

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By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 23, 2007

On a two-lane road in Fairfax City, Carly and Olivia Aull were headed to swim practice at 4:45 a.m., the improbable hour when several thousand competitive swimmers in the Washington area arrive at their pools. Carly, 17, was at the wheel as they passed apartments, then a school, making their way along Jermantown Road.

Going too fast, Carly lost control, police said. The car slid sideways, slamming into a utility pole.

The crash that left 14-year-old Olivia dead -- and her older sister bruised, with an eye injury -- has in the past 12 days become a shared loss, reaching beyond the Aull family and their Greenbriar neighborhood, and in many ways spanning the network of swim clubs and teams that are part of the fabric of summer in the Washington region.

Swim families have sent flowers, written notes, made posters, cooked food and printed T-shirts -- "Aull for One, One for Aull" -- in a wave of generosity and support that says a lot about how community is created in an era when many parents work outside the home and family weekends revolve around children's sports.

With swimming in particular, the time commitment is so intense, especially in summer months, and the parents are often so deeply involved that families cannot help but feel connected. It can take 40 parents to run a summer meet, which often goes on for hours, leaving long lulls to gather on pool decks and bleachers and trade bits of family life.

When tragedy strikes, it is widely felt, and few in recent times have seemed more painful: One daughter gone and the other involved in the crash, which happened on the way to practice.

In this dark time, parents Luke and Mary Ellen Aull say they have been overwhelmed by the outpouring from friends, neighbors and swim families. Their dogs have been walked, their dinners delivered, their lawn mowed. At the hospital that horrific morning July 11, their first friends to arrive were swim coaches.

But concern for the Aulls has also come from strangers, and at night they pore over a growing stack of cards and letters. Many have come from parents who say things such as:

"You don't know me, but my daughter swam with your daughter . . . "

Or: "I have a son who drives to morning practice, and I have always worried . . . "

"You just never know how many friends you have until something like this happens," Mary Ellen said.

"When this happened, our swim family -- and it's a very big family -- these people just came out for us," Luke said.


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