By Sashank Sankar
For most of us, we never think about synchronized swimming outside of the Summer Olympics, when we watch in amazement as swimmers dive, kick and pose in perfect unison. But for Samantha Elhart, synchronized swimming is more than just a passing interest—it’s her passion.
Elhart started swimming in high school and pursued it throughout college. But after graduating and having kids, she found she was too busy to swim consistently. Years later, her children asked about synchronized swimming while watching the 2012 Summer Olympics on TV. Elhart explained the sport, and her kids wanted to try it.
“I told them that it would be better if you did it with some of your friends, and once we started, the idea [of starting a team] came to me,” she says.
That was the beginning of the Charlottesville Swans, a youth synchronized swimming team of swimmers ages 12 to 19 that Elhart coaches. For the past few years, the Swans have qualified for the Junior Olympics, a competition associated with the United States Olympic Committee. The 2018 Junior Olympics for synchronized swimming, which drew teams from around the country, were held at the end of June at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Qualifying for the Junior Olympics is no easy feat. Synchronized swimming meets start in January of each year, but the Swans begin practicing long before that, beginning in September. “Once January comes around, we have a meet once a month until around May,” Elhart says.
When Elhart started the Swans six years ago, she only took one team to the Olympics. This past year, she coached eight teams that qualified. “We took almost 26 kids this year to the [Junior Olympics],” she says. “We’ve grown a lot since we’ve started.”
The Swans placed 26th in the 12 and under solo competition, a strong showing on the national stage.
Synchronized swimming doesn’t just involve being an expert swimmer; it is a combination of various disciplines. In fact, Elhart is not the only coach for the Swans—she’s hired gymnastics, Pilates and swimming coaches. The kids are separated into different groups, depending on their skillset. This allows the coaches to teach the girls the skills they need at their own pace.
“It’s hard enough to swim, so to ask a child to extend their leg into the air from underwater takes a lot of time,” Elhart says.
There are different types of routines, including solo, duet and trio, as well as teams of four to eight girls. Elhart’s favorite routine? The combo, which sounds exactly like what it is.
“I love that one because you can go nuts with the things you can do. I can have a few solo routines, some duets, anything you can think of,” she says.
The best part about this job for Elhart isn’t just the opportunity to compete with other teams but being able to teach kids about the sport that she’s been in love with for years. “I’ve been a coach for a long time and being able to work with these kids and teach them this sport, it’s always a rewarding experience,” she says. “It’s the best part of my day.”