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Aquamaids head coach Chris Carver and her Aquanuts counterpart Gail Emery are both allies and rivals. They jointly coached the USA team that won gold at Atlanta 1996, the country’s only Olympic title in the sport to date.
“We coached our clubs separately but we always came together for the good of the United States of America,” says Emery. “This great rivalry has gone on, that has made each club the two strongest in the nation.”
“I’m a little bit of an obsessive, compulsive person, and that’s perfect for this sport,” explains Carver. “But it all is based upon the desire to pursue excellence. On a national level Gail and I were fierce competitors. I wanted nothing more than to beat her, and she set the bar very, very high. I think we were successful in pushing the envelope for the United States in this sport because we were both extremely dedicated.”
Over the course of this four-part series, we follow the fortunes of the up-and-coming swimmers, who are giving everything to make their dream of competing at the Olympic Games a reality.
“My favourite part of being an Aquamaid is swimming with these team-mates who I’ve known for years. They’re like very close friends,” says Jacklyn Luu. “Being with a lot of other dedicated women makes me push myself to become a better version of who I am.”
“I think their team-mates become their family and best friends,” says Aquanuts coach Kristen Smidstra. “I think that’s what drives them to keep coming back, is their relationships that they’re forming. They just are synchro sisters.”
With the help of the swimmers’ families, the two California-based clubs have created support networks which enable them to raise enough money to compete at a national level. Their regular bingo nights bring in millions of dollars a year, without which they would be unable to travel to competitions, buy equipment or pay the wages of their coaches and managers.
The four videos follow the young swimmers as they prepare for the national championships in Tucson, Arizona, their last competition together. It is an emotional time for them, with some set to move on to the national team and others heading to university.
Following the national championships, Luu and Aquamaids team-mate Nikki Dzurko will join the USA team that will compete at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest (HUN) on Friday 14 July.
“I’ve been able to see many generations pass through, and what I see as the lasting value has nothing to do with synchronised swimming. It has to do with character,” says Carver. “It’s a thrill to create something that’s beautiful, but it’s a bigger thrill to have been a part of the development of the kind of people that are leaving the sport and going out in the world. I can’t imagine what I would have done in life that would have been more meaningful.”
“What’s your proudest moment?” adds Emery. “My proudest time: it’s just sharing the journey. It’s being able to share these moments and share the hard work. How are these people at the end? Do they enjoy the experience and will they transcend from this into their regular life?”