“We want the girls to meld together. This sport helps train you for life that way.” -Betty Hess, synchronized swimming coach, Pennsbury Falconettes
Many years ago, there was a girl who loved to swim. One day at her swim team practice, she saw legs rocketing up out of her school’s pool water. Loud music blared from a speaker nearby. As the girl watched, she was entranced. How could these swimmers with pinched noses and gravity-defying legs swim like that?
The girl asked the gray-haired coach nearby about the music: “Does it play underwater?” The coach answered with a twinkle in her eye. “Go ahead. Try it.”
After one listen underwater, the girl was hooked. How did that coach know she loved music and swimming? The next question that came from her mouth was, “Can I do this kind of swimming, too?”
For the next four years, the girl practiced with that synchronized swimming team, for a few hours per day, four times a week. Soon, she held her legs out of the water like the more experienced girls, and she could compete in the synchro competitions against other teams on the weekends. And soon, the girl qualified with her team to compete in the 1988 Synchronized Swimming Olympic Trials, the first for the sport, that year in Indianapolis.
The hard work paid off.
At age 14, the girl was the youngest on the team, and was also the tallest. The coach had her work extra hard to get her legs back underwater at the same time as her teammates, because her legs were (too) long. And her team could count on her to help boost the bottom of the lifts, when the team hoisted the smallest girls all the way out of the water. The girl was thrilled to wear her team’s Road to Seoul t-shirt. She was trying out to become an Olympian!
The Olympic Trials proved to be tough. Her team swam its best, and earned 13th place in the nation. Of course, they didn’t get to go to the Olympics to represent the USA, but they competed against and swam in the same pool as the women who did. It was one of the greatest experiences in the girl’s life.
That girl was me.
The dream came to an end when, the week after the Olympic Trials, my family moved to a new state. The small town we moved to did not have an indoor pool, and made for an abrupt end to a sport I dearly loved.
It is such a privilege to have had the experience to team up with and compete with the best in the country. Synchronized swimming forged me into a stronger person both inside and out. It was a time never to be forgotten. Swimming in the Olympic Trials was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
My coach Betty Hess was tops, a national leader in the sport and a judge for the Olympics. She was tough, and led the Pennsbury Falconettes with laser vision. She impacted me in ways I still cannot fully understand. I am so grateful for Ms. Hess’s influence on my life. Last week, Betty Hess lost her battle with pancreatic cancer. I’m saddened, as she has left an incredible legacy and impact on the US Synchronized Swimming organization.
The USA Synchronized Swimming team didn’t make the Olympics this year. I’m shocked. But I’ll still be watching. I’ll still be the girl who watched, rapt, at the incredible feats performed to music in the water. In my heart, I’ll always be a synchronized swimmer.
The Olympic Synchronized Swimming action begins on August 5. I can’t wait to watch!
How about you? What sport are you enjoying watching? What is your favorite Olympic sport?