Over 170 girls from around the Pacific Northwest traveled to Kirkland last weekend with hopes of earning an invitation to a national synchronized swimming championship this summer in Binghamton, NY.
A few locals did just that. Kirkland’s Miranda Sage, Mary Claire Squires, Katie Raabe and Kelsey Bearden all qualified for the championship through a regional synchronized swimming competition at the Juanita High School pool.
Twelve teams from four states and Canada gathered for the “Intermediate” and “Age Group” regional championship in solo, figure, duet, trio and team events (the skill level is two steps below Olympic qualifying). The Pacific Northwest Association of Synchronized Swimming hosted the event for girls ages 8-19.
As members of the Seattle Synchronized Swim Club, Sage and Squires placed first in the team event for their age group (13-15) and Raabe and Bearden placed first in the 11-12 age group. Sage also qualified through first place finishes in the solo and duet competitions. A fifth member of the team from Kirkland, Frances Dierken, did not advance.
One of the first to perform for her club in the solo competition last Friday, Sage covered the length of the pool, burst through the water with a pose and a wide smile, only to sink below the water and re-emerge seconds later legs first.
Teammate Squires cheered her on with others at the opposite end of the pool.
“I’m pretty nervous, but when you get there it’s not so bad, it’s OK … Before (your routine) it’s pretty nerve-racking,” Squires said.
Team names like the Kitsap Water Blossoms, Bozeman Stingrays, Vancouver Pacific Wave and Juneau Aurora Knights adorned the doors to the changing areas as the competitors met with coaches and teammates reviewing their moves and strategy.
“The swimmers will be judged on two criteria,” meet spokeswoman Michele Lovitt said. “On technical merit, how well they’re doing their strokes, how straight their feet and legs are … and how they actually perform it to the music”
The competitors all wore colorful sequined swimwear, Knox-gelatin slicked hair, big smiles and make-up. Sitting around the pool, the judges silently tallied the required routines and awarded additional points for artistic expression and timing.
During performances parents and teammates waved their hands around their heads as if imitating the strokes of the competitors underwater. The music varied from show tunes and Cirque du Soleil soundtracks to the Beatles and Bob Marley.
Girls from the Seattle club practiced an average of 20 hours a week to get ready for the competition.
“You’ve got to have a great attitude, a teachable attitude and be a good swimmer to get to this level,” head coach Julie Abel said.
Early last month the club experienced a scary moment when four swimmers were rushed to hospital after losing consciousness during practice in Kenmore. All four swam in the event without incident.