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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019 3 weeks ago

Prose and Kohn: Ladies win in unison

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Sarasota masters swimmers take synchronized gold medal.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

My only experience watching synchronized swimming comes from the TV show "Pushing Daisies," in which one of the main characters' aunts is world-renowned for their "synchro" skills. It's a great show that no one watched (but you should; it's on Amazon Prime Video), but the portrayal is played for laughs more than anything resembling art. 

When I heard that we had a group of synchro champions in Sarasota, I jumped at the chance to expand my knowledge. 

The swimmers represented Team Florida at the 2019 U.S. Masters Championships in Tupelo, Miss., held Oct. 10-13. The team won a gold medal in the "combo" event, or a routine involving four to 10 people. (The Florida team used seven.) They defeated the more colorfully named DC Synchromasters, Wisconsin Waterloons and Pacific Waves Synchro along the way. Three of the swimmers — Ruth Thompson, Debbie Robertson and Laura Clearie, all from Sarasota — also took silver in the solo category of their age divisions, and Robertson and Clearie took bronze in the duet category. 

Team Florida members Diane Roller, Kathy Clark, Nancy Moore, Laura Clearie, Ruth Thompson, Cheryl Roller and Debbie Robertson, who won a gold medal for their combo performance. Photo courtesy Andrew Clearie.

Thompson, 60, coaches the team, and has been involved in synchro for 50 years. It started as something she did as a kid, a typical class you would take in your swim instruction. But Thompson loved the creativity it allowed her to show. It was challenging, she said, and took the power of the brain and body to pull off. Most people, myself included, don't know the work that goes into it. For one performance — which can range from 90 seconds to four minutes — a team at the highest level of the sport may spend six to seven months practicing, only for that routine, making sure every twitch of every body moves together. It is like a dance troupe in that way. 

Team Florida didn't have that luxury of time, of course. In fact, the team only practiced its combo routine together in the same pool for two days. It was hard to get everyone together, Clearie said, so they communicated via videos and learned the routine that way. The Jamaican-themed performance won over the hearts of the judges. The win is nice, but Thompson and her team do it as much for the social experience as the physical. 

"I love introducing people to the sport," Thompson said. "I love sharing what it has done for me and what it can do for others. I am still active. I am participating in something."

Clearie and Robertson are less experienced than Thompson, starting their synchro careers in 2010 and 2011, respectively, but they quickly fell in love. Clearie, 70, said she never played sports growing up, but she watched her daughter, Alice Clearie, perform synchro for nine years, and eventually tried it herself. Robertson, 67, was a springboard diver before she decided that was getting too dangerous.

Clearie said synchro is like interval training. It is a high intensity workout when doing a routine, followed by a break while footage is reviewed and everyone adjusts their positioning. The masters team's routines tend to be more artful than athletic, Thompson said, but younger participants have given the sport new life by injecting lifts and tosses into routines. It's a positive change, Thompson said. Anything that attracts more people to the sport is a change for the better. Clearie and Robertson gave me a quick demonstration at Arlington Park, where the team practices three days a week — By the way, they love Arlington Park and its chlorine-light pool — and the twists, turns and flips looked plenty difficult to me. 

If you need a push to try it for yourself, well, here it comes.

"Most of us want to get in better shape and health," Thompson said. "I would say that everyone should try it, regardless of age. And men, too. Try something new." 

If any swimmers aged 6-18 want to partake, the Sarasota Sharks have a youth team. Visit their website for more information. 

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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