A chance meeting at a local swimming pool led to the establishment of a new program that gives local girls the chance to compete in an Olympic sport.
Synchronized swimming is the sport, and the pool belongs to the Baxter YMCA on the southside.
The meeting took place when YMCA aquatics director Jillian Guthrie saw Debra Radke, a former synchronized swimmer, coaching Radke’s 11-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, who competes in the sport on a national level.
“I happened to be watching, and Debra was coaching one of her daughters in the pool, and I thought, ‘What is she doing?’ So I approached her, and she explained they were just practicing her routine,” Guthrie said. “I said, ‘What would you think about getting a program going here?’ and she was super-excited because nowhere on (the) southside were they offering anything in this sport.”
The program is an eight-week course, and Radke just completed the first cycle, teaching nine girls once a week the basics of the sport, which involves a combination of swimming, dance and gymnastics.
Radke said the program, which will continue through the year, will be both for girls who just want to enjoy swimming more and those who might want to seriously compete. She is a coach for Indy Synchronized Swimming, a competitive club that has produced athletes vying for a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, as well as others competing regionally and nationally.
The club is based at pools in Broad Ripple and at IUPUI.
“The program at the ‘Y’ is to teach them some skills and see if they like the sport,” Radke said. “Once they are proficient at this, if they want to move on to a competitive team, Indy Synchro is there for them. If they want to just have fun in the water and teach friends crazy stuff, that is there, too.”
At a recent practice, Radke and fellow coach Hadiah Wadud-Rose led the nine girls, ranging in age from 6 to 12, in the rehearsal of a choreographed program they would perform for their parents on the final week of the program.
Smiles abounded as they went through the movements on the pool deck and later again as the group went into the water to practice their routine.
Radke later said all of the girls in the program want to come back for the next eight weeks, and that she can handle new attendees as well, teaching some the basics while building on the foundation started with the returnees.
“As we go on I’ll start to divide them up by ability,” she said. “The ones coming back can start to learn more difficult maneuvers. I can envision six levels of classes.”
Guthrie is fine with the program being a gateway to Indy Synchronized Swimming.
“I’m really hoping we can grow this program. I’m very happy with the start,” she said. “The way I look at it we can be a feeder program for Indy Synchro. They can come to learn basic routines; and if they decide they want to continue after a while, we can send them on.”
Radke said teaching the basics is about helping overcome some fears and developing a passion for the water.
“Some will have a fear of the water. We have the benefit of the magic nose clips so they don’t get water up their nose, which I think is what they don’t like,” she said. “Once it is on, they are more fearless and willing to try a lot more. They always end up having fun. At the end of practice we even have a tea party at the bottom of the pool.”
Like coaches in other sports, Radke said one challenge in dealing with many youth today is that they have been living sedentary lives.
“I coached years ago, and the biggest change is the athlete’s ability to know what their body is doing,” she said. “They need athleticism and core strength. They have to have legs for ballet, and if they don’t have control of the middle of their body, they can’t do it.
“A lot of kids these days are just sitting on their iPods and other devices and don’t know how to do anything athletic, so we’re trying to stimulate a new generation of athleticism.”
After a recent practice, Greenwood resident Kinlee DeBoor, 10, left no doubt that she was buying into the program.
“I love it. You can learn all kinds of things about swimming and make new friends,” she said. “I definitely want to keep doing it.”
Fellow participant Ella Stegall of Greenwood agreed.
“I like that we get to learn all these different tricks,” she said.
The class costs $112 for nonmembers of the YMCA and $56 for members. More information about registration is available at indyymca.ebookview.net/guide.php?orgid=46.
Center Grove area resident Geraldine Christie, whose daughters Allison and Geralyn participated in the first cycle, gave Radke a positive review.
“Both of my girls are really good swimmers, and when I heard about the program I asked if they wanted to do it, and they both did,” Christie said. “They jumped in, both literally and figuratively.”