As someone who feels like crying when the word “swimming” is even mentioned, I was not merely reluctant, but outright terrified to try synchronized swimming. The fear of drowning occupied my mind during every swimming class I went to growing up, and even though I eventually learned how to swim, I never really got past the fear. And I suppose that’s exactly why I took on the challenge – it was a way to conquer my childhood fears once and for all.
I contacted the head coach at San Dieguito Synchronized Swimming, who generously offered me a trial session in the beginner class. Under the impression that I would spend my time twirling around in the water with other newcomers my age, I confidently strode to the pool to find a dozen 6-year-olds clasping their towels and goggles and staring at me, bewildered. I walked around the pool, asking where the young adult beginner class was, but was directed right back to the group of curious and expectant tykes.
I put my towel down next to the other students’ and began doing stretches at the poolside, as directed by the head coach. I had managed to get through the lunges and downward dog pose, when she asked everyone to do the “scorpion” pose, which involved extreme contortion of the legs and fluttering hand motions. This was followed by the “boat,” for which I lay on my stomach and waved my feet wildly in the air.
Then we split into two groups and went over the routine that the class had been practicing. I tried to follow along as we kicked and twirled poolside.
After the land drills were over, we got into the pool. I thought we would simply begin the routine, but instead we did six laps as a warmup. Since I hadn’t been swimming in years, I could hardly make it across the pool once doing freestyle, let alone five more times doing backstroke and breaststroke as well. I was then taught the “fancy backstroke,” a synchronized swimming basic, where I tapped the water with a jazz hand every time I made a stroke. I was not very good at the fancy backstroke and kept splashing water on my face while continuously bumping into the pool wall.
While the other students began to practice the routine, I was pulled aside by a class helper to learn another basic move called the “eggbeater.”
If there is one thing I am terrible at, it’s the eggbeater. The eggbeater is the core element of synchronized swimming, the helper explained, and it was supposed to be done by alternatingly rotating my legs while pushing the water back and forth with my hands. It is essentially a graceful form of treading water, but I could not get the motions correct even after being shown how to do them several times by both the instructors and the other students in my class. And since I could not easily grasp the eggbeater, I had to hold my instructor’s hand for more than half the class to stay afloat.
We started the routine, and I tried to follow along as the head coach explained the steps in the routine. We would start under water for four counts and then come to the surface with a “boost.” Then we would do eight counts of breaststroke before tucking our knees to our chests to do a somersault.
This sequence demonstrated the far more strenuous and complicated nature of the sport than I ever had expected. I could barely stay under water without running out of breath, and when I boosted to the surface, I violently splashed water in the children’s faces. The coach pointed out that I should try to be more graceful.
When it was my turn to do a somersault, I closed my eyes, bent my knees and rolled over, hoping this would suffice as a flip. But, when I opened my eyes, I was face down on the surface of water, having not even slightly turned upside down in the water. With admirable understatement, my coach allowed that I hadn’t “quite gotten it.”
In truth, I hadn’t quite gotten most of the moves and poses taught to me, but at the end, the head coach reminded me that the first time never goes easily for anyone. She knew of my reluctance when it came to swimming, and told me my willingness to even try the sport was “one step in the right direction.”
Before leaving, I watched the students in an advanced class gracefully maneuver in the water, perfectly synchronizing their motions as they glided across the pool.
I thought then that the thought of swimming did not make me feel like crying as much as it had before I had taken this lesson. And when my friend asked me the following day if I wanted to go swimming with her, I accepted, joking that I would teach her a somersault, but to forget about the eggbeater.