© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
Synchro P.E.I. Naiads athletes Victoria McQuaid, 17, and Fallon Morrell, 16, have been immersed in this all-female sport since they were young children.
There are few sports that are as fluid in motion as synchronized swimming.
“Synchro,” as it’s called, is like an aquatic ballet that fuses gymnastics, en-durance and strength.
And what you see is only the tip of the in-water action; beneath the surface is where much of the hard work secretly takes place.
“My friends come watch me all the time and they just think it’s the coolest thing that (most people) know what we’re doing underwater. We’re just up there, right? You don’t really know what’s going on down there,” says Kennedy Oonen, 17, of Charlottetown.
“When you see the lifts and stuff you just see the one person flying out (of the water) but there are eight people all in their positions. It’s so important what everyone does but no one thinks of that. They just see the person flying who gets all the glory,” the 17-year-old adds with a laugh.
Kennedy is an athlete with Synchro P.E.I. Naiads, which presently has about 40 participants from age six to 18 involved. And this longstanding program is hoping to share the glory by presenting free trial sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6-7 p.m. until Aug. 21 at the CARI Pool in Charlottetown.
“Our numbers are lower than we would like so we’re trying to show people what they can see with synchronized swimming, how much fun it is,” says Sychro P.E.I. Naiads president Rosanne McQuaid.
Like many synchro swimmers, Kennedy started at a young age. She was seven when she joined the recreational program.
“I remember when I first tried it I didn’t want to go in the pool — I cried — my mom made me go in but once I tried it I loved it,” she laughs.
“It was really easy to make friends because you’re with the people all the time. You get to be creative and you work together, it’s really fun. I love the people (in the program).”
From there Kennedy advanced to the provincial program and then to the national stream competitive program.
This year she is focused on her academics so has stepped back from competing, but she is now a volunteer coach with the recreational program.
“It’s amazing. At first they don’t know what’s going on, but you teach them some things and they work at it and they’re so proud of themselves,” she says of her young synchro swimmers.
“And the rest of the team is really good at supporting them. They high-five them and give them big smiles.”
Victoria McQuaid of Charlottetown started with the synchronized swimming program when she was eight.
“I like swimming — a lot, a lot — and I like dance, so this is all in one,” says the 17-year-old, who now competes solo at the national level.
“Whenever I’m training for competitions I like to work really hard because I want to see how much better I can be every time I go. I like to try to beat my last time, the last score I got at previous competitions,” she says.
Fallon Morrell, 16, of Winsloe was eight years old when her parents signed her up.
“I loved it immediately. I’m very competitive so I love that part of it. I also love how everyone is equal. It’s not like most sports where one person can kind of take over. Like in hockey, that one person can be that main person on the team. Everyone can be equal on a synchro team,” she says.
Synchronized swimming takes in the aspect of performing but also includes strong strength and endurance elements.
“You have to be really physically fit to be able to do all the stuff in the water — to be able to keep your head above the water or your legs, depending on which way you’re going,” Fallon adds with a laugh.
And then there’s the matter of oxygen intake. While most athletes concentrate on breathing techniques, synchronized swimmers have to focus on non-breathing techniques as well.
“During a lot of our practices we do lengths of the pool underwater to work on that and you try to do things outside of swimming to try to keep in shape,” Victoria says.
Words of advice from these longtime synchro swimmers to newcomers are once the basics are down pat, the world of synchronized swimming is your oyster.
And it never gets old.
“Even if you’re at our level and you’ve been in as long as we have (it’s a learning experience),” Fallon says.
“Maybe your coach shows you a figure and eventually you get it and it’s like, yes!”
McQuaid says the all-female sport of synchronized swimming is empowering for its athletes and helps to build self-esteem and confidence.
“They have to perform in front of multiple judges on deck who are judging them whether they’re swimming in a solo, duet or a team. And they have to do figures where they perform them individually in front of judges, so you have to learn how to have composure and to be calm in a potentially stressful situation and to have to be able to put your best foot forward.
“That has transferred for these girls with respect to In Synch their school and other activities,” she adds.
Fallon now competes regionally, but for her, synchronized swimming is much more than just a competitive sport.
“You literally become like a little family. You get to see your teammates more than your actual family sometimes, and the pool has become a second home for all of us,” she laughs.
“I just loved how we’re all so close and we’ll probably be close forever.”
AT A GLANCE
Try it out
- The Synchro P.E.I. Naiads will be holding free trials on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6-7 p.m. ending Aug. 21, at the CARI Pool in Charlottetown.
- Swimmers of all ages and abilities are welcome to try the sport of synchronized swimming.
- Swimmers may drop in for as many classes as they please throughout the free trial period.