Imagine treading water as you hoist another person above your head, throwing her into the air with enough force that she is able to flip before landing gracefully back in the pool. Imagine being so in-tune with another human being that you don’t even glance at each other as you float on your backs, kicking your legs up at precisely the same moment. Imagine holding your breath for twenty seconds, thirty seconds, forty seconds as you count a rhythm in your head, waiting for your cue to break the surface.
While most people have trouble simply treading water for extended periods of time, Grace Alwan and Sophia Ju perform these feats on a daily basis. As synchronized swimmers, the two girls possess tremendous amounts of strength and endurance. Ju explains that “the hardest thing about synchro is breath control.” While other sports provide water breaks and time-outs, there is no resting during a synchro routine. Competitors must train to overcome obstacles such as oxygen deprivation and fatigue as they spend large portions of their performances underwater, where they face disqualification if they so much as touch the bottom of the pool.
The two AHS freshmen are duet partners that compete for the local ANA Synchro team. The team attends approximately eight meets a year, where they are judged against other competitors. They have gone to California several times for meets, and also participate in several shows throughout the season, which are not only competitions, but performances for families and friends.
Alwan and Ju have been incredibly successful in the sport. Both have been invited to attend 2015 National Team Try-Outs. Alwan earned her invitation after placing first in her age group at the USA Synchro National Skills Competition in October, and Ju qualified with her performances last spring. Later this year, the two will compete among the country’s top-ranked synchronized swimmers for the twelve spots on the 2015 US National team, which is comprised of the best synchronized swimmers in the country.
Earlier this year, the girls proved that the skills they’ve gained from synchronized swimming are useful in other sports as well. They quickly made names for themselves in the realm of competitive swimming and diving as they participated on the Andover High School Swim and Dive Team this Fall. As Freshmen, both Ju and Alwan competed in MIAA Division I State Championship, helping the Lady Warriors to capture their fourteenth state title in the past sixteen years. Ju placed 4th in the 50 freestyle and 15th in the 100 breaststroke. She also swam the fastest leg in the 4th place 200 freestyle relay, splitting a 25.38. Alwan swam the 100 backstroke and finished 17th.
Through their hard work in the pool, the girls have developed the strength, endurance, and flexibility that they need to become versatile athletes. Whether they are racing in a swim meet or performing a synchronized duet together, one thing is certain: Grace Alwan and Sophia Ju are sure to make a splash.
By Caroline Murtagh