Asia Tse has Olympic aspirations. At a Leaside swimming pool, the preteen talks matter-of-factly about adrenaline highs and the “intense, fast” routines of which she hopes to one day be a part. For now, she is one of roughly two-dozen young swimmers who have wrapped a week-long intensive training camp held by the Toronto Synchronized Swimming Club. But images of future glory have been planted.
“We had a talk with Val [Hould-Marchand],” said Tse, her dark chlorine-soaked hair pulled back into a tight bun. “She’s one of the coaches, and her team got a silver at the 1996 Olympics. We all got inspired.”
Earlier in the morning, groups of seven and eight-year-olds performed the routines they’d spent the week developing. Clips from Disney musical numbers accompanied the young swimmers, who treaded into symmetrical configurations, pointing their petite limbs as one. Sixty seconds to “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”; another minute to “Under the Sea.”
“My nose clip fell off!” exclaimed one especially tiny swimmer as she lifted herself out of the turquoise water, shivering violently.
“I’m coaching the itty bitty ones this year,” said Amanda Cira as little nose-clip girl scuttled into a diving-board queue. A not-quite 18-year-old who joined the camp’s strikingly youthful coaching staff last year, Cira’s pupils are mostly new to synchro; the camp is, for many, their introduction to the sport. For the older girls, like Tse, camp is a way to get back into shape for the competitive season that begins in the fall. Not so long ago, Cira was one of them.
Catherine Allen, whose 10-year-old daughter Erin and 12-year-old daughter Gillian have both wrapped a week at a camp, explains that synchro presents an inviting alternative to traditional swimming competition among girls who have spent a lot of time in pools. “They did a lot of swim lessons very early, and they got to the point where it was more interesting for them to do something else besides length after length after length.”
Gillian, who swims competitively throughout the year, likes how camp gives her a fitness head-start on the season. “It’s good to sort of get back into the swing of things, like working out and stuff, instead of trying to do that plus get your routine down at the same time.”
For Erin, who swims recreationally at Leaside Memorial Gardens Pool, the camp is more about fun. “I really like to be in the water and I love swimming.”
Tse loves the swimming too, but it’s not her favourite part of the whole synchro camp-and-competition process. “Getting closer to some of your friends [is the best part],” she said. “Some people you think you’re already really close to, and then you get even closer when you’re on the same team. Right before a competition, everyone’s really pumped and all together.
“Right after we swim,” she continued, “everyone’s either really bummed or really happy.” Either way, they’re in it together.