Sync swimmers bond in, outside water

By Lilly Ortega


For sophomore criminal justice major Natalia Vega, synchronized swimming has been her passion for the past 14 years.

Not only does Vega have the synchronized swimming background but the majority of her Puerto Rican family did water sports, so you could say it is in her blood. Her aunt and cousin were both part of the Puerto Rican National Team and influenced Natalia to become a synchronized swimmer herself.

“My cousin, who is 10 years older than me, swam in college and I remember I wanted to be like her since I was little,” Vega said. “I was always watching the collegiate competitions hoping one day I would be there too.”

Poolside onlookers will get to see Vega, who is from Guaynabo, and her teammates show their stuff in what’s being billed as a “synchronized swimming spectacular” at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 21-22 when the nationally ranked unit holds its annual benefit water show.

“The Wizard of Oz” is the theme of the show which head coach Elizabeth Gerdin and her assistant, Emily Tucker, said will showcase the team outside their normal routines.

“This will be very different than our competitive routines for the season,” they said in a joint statement. “It will be showy and audience-friendly, complete with acting, synchro, props, acrobatic lifts, and the ruby slippers as you’ve never seen them before.”

Synchronized swimming is “a very unique, yet athletic sport that combines the acrobatics of a competitive gymnast, speed and endurance of a swimmer, precise muscular control of a ballerina, team cohesiveness and ability to ‘read’ teammates similar to volleyball,” Tucker said.

UIW’s team competes with the likes of Stanford, Ohio State and Lindenwood University. “There is a big demand and expectation to improve in the rankings and we hope to knock Lindenwood down a peg this year and reclaim third place overall,” Tucker said. “Our girls are elite athletes at a Division I institution. I expect them to excel in the classroom and to come to practice ready to work at 100 percent.”

The team members are expected to keep their grade point averages above 3.0 while practicing a minimum of four hours a day, 20 hours a week.

“Because of the ‘perfectionist’ nature of our sport, we utilize all those hours,” Tucker said. “Once in full-time training, our girls will have three-to-four-hour practices six days per week. Included in that weekly total are two-to-three hours of strength training and one hour of sports psychology.”

Such a regimen helped Vega excel individually as well. She competed last summer on Team USA at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. FINA rules are applicable for the Olympic Games and other competitions.

“Competing at a FINA event and representing the U.S. was an honor,” Vega said, adding she’s also competed in Junior Worlds and Worlds championships. National team practices kept her busy 10 hours a day, six days a week.

“There are so many times when I have said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ especially if it’s been a bad practice or bad week. However, that feeling I get when I’m done competing, having a good swim, and hearing my coach say she’s proud, is something I’m not going to walk away from.

“My (UIW) team pushes me and everyone else when we’re feeling down. That’s something

very special we have. It doesn’t matter how hard practice is. We make sure to cheer each other up and give our best.”

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