✦ You may have seen snippets of a bevy of lithe mermaids in the pool 'dancing' in the water, with all their movements perfectly timed. Synchronised swimming is a fascinating sport that keeps your eyes riveted!
We all know the story of The Little Mermaid who wanted legs instead of her graceful tail. Those who love the water will wonder why she would want a pair of legs when she could glide through water effortlessly.
Swimming is undeniably one of the most popular sport and leisure activity. It's one of those sports that allows you to either push yourself to the extreme and have a rigorous workout or you can choose to just float and do a gentle backstroke in the pool in summer. A big advantage of swimming is you can workout as hard as you like and you don't have to worry about sweating or getting embarrassing sweat patches on your gym clothes!
Synchronised swimming takes the sport to another level. Some people do it as a recreational activity while others aim for the Olympics. It is simply one of the most fascinating sports around, and beyond the technical feats, it is the synchronicity that keeps one riveted. Many of us have friends or family who swim as a sport or hobby, but it's not every day that we meet someone who actually does synchronised swimming seriously.
Brilliant's Content Writer Yann Tyng in her other job as an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher in Spain has had the opportunity to meet all kinds of people, and she got to know a young girl who has dedicated 14 years of her life to synchronised swimming. What's the world of synchronised swimming really like?
Born to love the water
Elena is a 20-year-old Spanish student currently doing her second year of Nursing in the university. She started doing synchronised swimming when she was just six, thanks to her mother Milagros. Milagros was clear she wanted a team sport for her daughter. As Elena's horoscope sign was Aquarius, she took it as a guide that perhaps a team sport in water would be a good choice!
Milagros found a place where Elena could start doing more intensive swimming that would allow her to be chosen by a school to do synchronised swimming. Clearly, to be able to do synchronised swimming one has to be a more than average swimmer and in just a year, Elena was selected to join the synchronised swimming group. As a child, Elena enjoyed her swimming sessions and when she started to train in synchronised swimming, she loved performing in Christmas events and shows along the year.
Elena doing synchronised swimming at 6 years old.
You have to really want it
I wanted to know if synchronised swimming required certain special physical traits or characteristics. I was expecting Elena to perhaps say swimmers need to be a certain height or weight, or perhaps really powerful lungs, but what she said I found really inspiring.
"It's not so much the physical aspects, but the desire to learn and improve every single day. Anyone can train to better their physical conditions, but this hunger to go further every day is not something that everybody possesses."
"You can always train more when it comes to flexibility or strength, but to bear with the difficulties and to continue wanting to improve and also to work well in a team, those are more important skills to have," explained Elena. Right now, Elena herself has become a trainer, teaching young adolescents to do synchronised swimming as a hobby. Not everyone necessarily wants to or can do synchronised swimming seriously. Those who wish to do synchronised swimming at the very top national levels have to go through strict exams before they can get there. In Spain, those who get to this level are in the Royal Spanish Swimming Federation.
Elena is proud of her achievements of having reached a high level of professionalism in synchronised swimming. It was humbling listening to her, as she has no airs about her accomplishments. She does not see herself as being better than any other person who trains in the school. She simply does what she does because she enjoys it.
You have to put in the hours
During a part of her training period, she trained 5 days a week, with training sessions starting at 6:00am-7:30am (yes you read that right... in the MORNING) and then 6:00pm-9:30pm on weekdays, and training on Saturdays was from 8:00am-1:00pm. During summer and holiday periods, training hours intensified.
The hours were scheduled so the children could still attend regular school that started at 8:45am. Elena was training an average of 24 hours per week. In the water. (Honestly, I don't even see myself spending 24 hours a week in the spa!)
I was really curious to know what motivated Elena all those years to wake up at such ungodly hours and jump into a pool of cold water. Even with a heated swimming pool, the fact that you have to crawl out of bed in winter and put on layers of clothes to leave the house is quite a huge deterrent!
"To be honest, I didn't really like getting out of bed that early! The thing is, knowing that I would be with my friends from the synchronised swimming club made me want to get up and get going. The relationship I have with these girls in the club is really different from what I have with my friends from school. We share a very unique, strong bond together."
And there we go. The all powerful human connection. "With my friends in the synchronised swimming club, we practically grew up together and we shared the same worries, fears, goals, desires. It's just not the same as what I have with my school friends. I'm a lot closer to my friends in the synchronised swimming club. They are a very special group of people to me."
Learning independence young
When you think about the gruelling schedule one has to be subject to in order to train professionally, one wonders how Elena coped with the intensive training plus regular school. So was it difficult for Elena to cope with so many demands?
Her answer was a resounding NO.
Milagros explained the reason for Elena's independence, reliability and maturity. When Elena started her swimming classes, Milagros explained to her honestly and simply that if she wanted to really continue with her swimming and go even further, she would have to be responsible for managing her school work. Milagros was clear she didn't want to be breathing down her daughter's neck every second checking if she had done her homework. It was her way of letting her child decide for herself what she really wanted, if she truly wanted it, and what she needed to do in order to get it. It took both mother and daughter a difficult teething period while they found the best time management for Elena to finish her schoolwork so it did not interfere with her swimming. By the time Elena was 8, she could be trusted to handle her schoolwork, and ask for help when she needed it.
Hanging up the swimsuit
It must be serendipity that I managed to interview Elena now because she said this would be her last year doing synchronised swimming. She has clearly done way more than many have in this sport, and even taking part in the top national championships, and having a total of 45 medals over the years. Next year she would be in her third year of Nursing, which is very much her vocation now. Synchronised swimming has been an important part of her growing up years, and now she is focusing on building her career in nursing.
She's still happy right now to continue swimming mainly because she treasures the time she has left with her synchronised swimming friends and they always have a good time together.
Many professional synchronised swimmers or those who do it professionally stop at 26 or 27, so it is a tough sport to continue with age. If she could start her life all over again, Elena would still choose synchronised swimming. "Working in a team for the same goal is a huge drive for me and I absolutely love it."
Elena doing synchronised swimming at 20 years old.
Nerves of steel
For Milagros, while she is clearly proud of Elena's achievements, she confessed that at one point she really wanted her to stop synchronised swimming. And she's not alone in this. Many other parents whose children do this sport seriously have felt the same. The training itself was tough and the trainers were even tougher. Milagros felt it was just too much for a child. Perhaps a trainer would say No Pain, No Gain, or if you really want it you have to sacrifice etc. and yes there is a certain truth in having to push the human body and mind beyond its limits if you want to go that far. But for a parent who simply wanted a child to have a sport they could enjoy and where they could make friends, it was hard to see their child go through such difficult training. So for parents whose children are involved in tough competition sports, they too need nerves of steel to allow them to keep going even though they'd much rather their children stop.
Moms can be amazing athletes while bringing up baby too! Read about these Supermoms here.
Stepping in at the last minute... and winning!
Elena recounted a particularly stressful situation when she was one of the girls 'on the bench' so to speak, in a local state competition. She thought it was going to be just a matter of waiting through the performance and then going home. Just an hour before the team was meant to go on, she was told the 'lead swimmer' was ill and could not go on. So Elena was pulled off the bench and plonked into the performance! The thing is, while those on the bench are expected to know everybody's part, there's just a very rare chance that they have to step in to fill the shoes (or swimsuit!) of the lead.
"While my trainer was doing up my hair, I was just sitting there with an iPad, trying my best to learn the lead swimmer's part in the choreography! And I had just an hour to learn it all. And because I wasn't supposed to be performing, my mum wasn't there at the competition. She only found out about it later when people commented to her how well we did!"
And there's a rather delightful ending to this rather stressful situation (one can only imagine how frazzled the unfortunate trainer must have felt then). Elena stepped in to take on the lead part and the team won the GOLD!!!
Elena showed me all the swimsuits she had used over the years, and she still has the little ones she had when she took part in the events, shows and competitions as a child. It certainly has been quite a journey for Elena through all these years of pushing through water and taking herself way beyond her limits.
What I took away from listening to Elena share her experience is not the fame or pain of top level competitions but of her finding a group of people who shared the same passion and goal as she did, and to grow up together, supporting each other and building such a special and strong bond that allows them to see past the physical and mental challenges of what they do.
And the message Elena leaves us with is simply this - it's not about being special, or among the elite or being lucky to be born a certain way. If you're willing to learn and to improve every single day, you'll go very far. And as a very famous and well-loved fish once wisely said, "Just keep swimming!"
Learn more about synchronised swimming in Australia:
Find a club in Australia here:
Love sport? Find out what to look forward to in 2023!
Advertise with Brilliant-Online
✦ Brilliant-Online is the only publication that offers a single interactive multichannel advertising package.
✦ The purpose of Brilliant-Online is to push for a better world in the digital era.
✦ Brilliant-Online is an empowering read for progressive individuals and dynamic businesses.
✦ For all enquiries about advertising with Brilliant-Online, please contact us here.