Stroke by stroke, the Variety Village Synchro Club is flying higher than ever.
Swimming to a jungle beat, Variety’s Tiger team of 13 to 15 year-olds roared to gold in a Montreal pool last month – the first national title in the club’s 24-year history.
Variety swiped even more medals as Emily Armstrong and Teghyn Gurney won a silver in the duet. Gurney also took bronze in the technical figures event, while Armstrong won a silver in figures and another silver in solo.
“We’re one of those clubs where a lot of these girls are home-grown,” says coach Michelle Dalgleish.
“They’ve been with the club a long time, and just came up through the program.”
One look at the club’s awards list for the last few years shows the trend is well above water – not only for the swimmers, but also for coaches like Variety’s head coach Jennifer Koptie, named 2013 Coach of the Year by Synchro Canada.
Asked about the recent successes, Dalgleish is quick to credit the girls’ hard work, plus the full track and gym at Variety Village.
More than most sports, Dalgleish said much of the work in synchronized swimming goes sight unseen.
“A lot goes into the behind-the-scenes for a four-minute performance in front of a judge,” she said, noting that the Tigers train five days a week, and only hit the pool after an hour of fitness training and dry-land drills.
And beneath every highlight – when a swimmer flips, cartwheels, or otherwise flies out of the water – there is a stack of teammates sculling hard to throw or lift her up from below. No one ever touches the pool bottom.
On a recent Saturday morning, long before the last cartoons played on TV, Dalgleish’s Tigers were in the pool with their goggles on, their eyes trained on the patterns set by their seven teammates, and their ears tuned to the music, heard largely upside-down and from a speaker mounted under water.
“Team is always longer than solo and duet, and it’s very difficult,” said Dalgleish. “Almost half of it is under water.”
“Think about when you’re running and out of breath, but then you have to hold your breath. That’s what makes it more challenging.”
Teghyn Gurney agrees that synchronized swimming is demanding, especially given the time it takes to synch eight pairs of legs and arms like a series of clock hands moving in unison.
“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, I’d have to say. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, I don’t really want to go to practice tonight.’”
In June, Gurney, Armstrong, and the Variety Village team will fly to Kamloops, BC, for nationals. It will be the furthest west they have gone so far, though both have travelled to Calgary and Florida for competitions and training.
As they did before Montreal, they are now refining their routine, bringing the difficulty up, working on their endurance and their lines.
But there is a flip side to the hard work of drilling in such close patterns, said Armstrong.
“You meet a lot of great people, and you and your teammates become really close,” she said.
“It’s kind of like a family,” she said.