With little time to breathe in synchronized swimming

Strickland sharing synchro-swimming spotlight

Chilliwack's Olivia Strickland joins seven synchronized swimmers in the team competition of the 2012 BC Summer Games.

Eleven practises.

That’s all they have to get a rather complicated synchronized swimming routine together. A blink of the eye, really, when you’re trying to get eight girls to swim in unison.

Less than the blink of an eye when you’re Olivia Strickland — when all you’ve done up till now is solos and duets, and you’re just meeting your 2012 BC Summer Games teammates for the very first time.

Eleven practises for the soon-to-be 12-year-old to get things right as she tackles the biggest challenge of her young athletic career.

No complaints though.

This is her chance to compete in the premier event for young athletes, one that spotlights the qualities of sportsmanship, dedication, competition and yes, perseverance.

There’s nothing going on that she can’t handle.

June. 11 is the first practice, the first chance for the Chilliwack girl to get a read on her teammates.

She likes what she sees.

They’re a fun group.

Stephanie Hughes, from Surrey, is the class cut-up.

There could be a funeral going on, and Hughes would be ready with a line that would have the room in stitches.

Rose MacKenzie, also from Surrey, is the one keeping them all in line.

She’s a perfectionist who demands perfection from her teammates.

Sometimes, that leads to a five minute dissertation on how to properly execute a split. But that’s OK, because you want teammates who care.

If MacKenzie pushes Olivia and her teammates to be just a little bit better, it might be the difference between medal or no medal.

Each of the girls has their own thing, their own quirk, that makes them unique.

Outside the pool, that’s great.

Inside the pool, they spend the next six weeks (two times per week) figuring out how to function as one. They do so to the music of Agent J, Bagger Vance and Oscar from Shark Tale.

Will Smith supplies the soundtrack as the girls work through their elements, starting with Switch before rolling into Men in Black, Getting Jiggy Wit It and the theme from Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

When it’s time to get into the pool, Olivia isn’t nervous.

Ever.

Her mom, Christina, watches her before her solo and duet routines and swears its true. Before getting into the pool, this kid is a mask of calm, completely blind to distractions. Olivia could give focus lessons to the Dalai Lama.

Ice water runs through her veins from start to finish. From two-and-a-half to four minutes (depending on the competition), all she hears is the music and her thoughts.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Surface! Pull into pike. Swirly! Crane! Swirly! Swirly! Swirly! Inverted tuck. Knee tuck. Boost!”

All of that, just to get through the first figure.

Normally, Olivia gets to wear goggles as she swims.

No such luck at the BC Summer Games, so she trains as she will compete.

With goggles she sees clearly.

Without, it’s all a blur.

A legible blur, mind you.

She can tell that Rose is over here and Maria Goncharova (Surrey) is over there.

But high definition TV it is not.

Olivia’s first priority is taking care of herself.

In that frantic gaggle of flailing arms and legs, the only thing she has direct control over is how well she does — whether she executes her movements as she is supposed to do.

She almost always does.

At times Olivia will spend anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds under water, but she’s far too busy to worry about that small matter of breathing.

She’ll surface, grab as much air as she can, and head back down for the next figure.

Synchronized swimming is not for the aquaphobic.

Olivia gets tired down there.

Going a half minute without oxygen will do that to a person.

But she doesn’t let up.

She can’t.

In solo, Olivia’s failures and successes are her own, with no one else to credit or blame. At the BC Summer Games, Rose MacKenzie’s fate may rest on something Olivia does or doesn’t do.

Olivia’s fate depends on the performance of Rose, Stephanie, Maria, Erin Nichols, Courtney Armstrong, Jessica Friesen and Lani-Marie Carbonel.

Together they swim.

Divided they sink.

At one of their final practices, the team looks like they’re ready to swim.

They walk out onto the swim deck, flashing ear-to-ear smiles at an imaginary panel of judges.

They hop into the pool and they’re off, looking more cohesive than they’ve ever been.

They’re through one figure, then the next, and the next and the next.

The music stops.

They swim to the side and their coaches, Tina Naveri and assistant Tanya Magee, ask them to grade themselves on a 1-10 scale. Most of the girls give it a seven and the coaches agree.

Not perfect, with plenty of room for tinkering and tuning.

But the girls, many of them strangers just six weeks ago, finally feel like they’re ready. On July 21 at 1:50 p.m., they’ll do this in front of a few hundred people at the Surrey Sport and Leisure Centre.

The place will be buzzing, with several events running at the same time.

Olivia’s not likely to notice.

The pandemonium around her, the whistles and shouts and cheers, will all fade away.

Just her and the water.

Six weeks and 11 practises all leading up to four minutes.

And at the end?

Relief.

Happiness.

And a medal would be really nice.

 

— Chilliwack is sending several athletes, coaches and officials to the BC Summer Games.

Ryan Higuichi, Tasha Willing and Dylan McCrindle are competing in athletics (track and field).

Devyn Heggs, Colin Kellington, Parker Logan, Donovan Moorman and Tony Pharand are competing in baseball.

Finley Capstick and Rhys and Isabel Taylor are competing in canoe/kayak.

Mark Harrison is competing in boys volleyball.

Catherine Armitage and Barb Schmidt are officials in equestrian and Ray Flynn is an official in golf.

Steven Scurr and Connor McClellan will be competing in golf and Kaitie Smith will be involved in girls rugby.

Patrick Harkness is an official in boys soccer.

Get full participant lists online at http://www.bcgames.net/results/default.aspx