The sport of synchronized swimming, or artistic swimming as it is now known, has a more than 50-year history in Lethbridge. Its roots run back to 1963, when Mrs. Ursula Kasting began coaching the sport in Lethbridge. Synchronized swimming (now artistic swimming) was not yet an Olympic event but it was recognized as one of the fastest growing sports in the world at the time. It was demonstrated at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico and became an official Olympic sport in 1984. The Synchrobelles as a club began for the 1977 season and swam out of the Stan Siwik Pool. For many years the club was primarily recreational and showcased their talents at an annual Watershow. By 1985, the club was both recreational and competitive under the direction and coaching of head coach Shirley Lutwick.
Synchronized swimming is now known internationally as artistic swimming due to a name change at the FINA Congress in 2017, suggested by the International Olympic Committee to better align with other artistic sports. Synchro Canada followed by changing its name to Canada Artistic Swimming, as did Synchro Alberta to Alberta Artistic Swimming.
Today, the LSSSC is a non-profit organization that is proud to build the sport of artistic swimming in Lethbridge. Programs run year-round at the Max Bell Regional Aquatic Centre at the University of Lethbridge. Its swimmers are competitive at the provincial level, and some have also gone to Nationals or competed internationally at the World Masters.
Their mission is “to provide a unique opportunity for athletes to develop artistic swimming skills while enjoying the benefits of fitness, friendship, and teamwork in a positive and supportive environment.” Head coach Sara Kindt (Lorraine’s daughter) has experienced this firsthand.
Sara attended a year end “Watershow” when she was a young girl, and she quickly got hooked. “I saw it. And I'm like, ‘I want to do this.’ And so, my mom enrolled me when I was nine and the rest is history.” She’s been involved with the sport for the past quarter century, swimming competitively as a child and now coaching for the past 14 years.
Lorraine got her start at the very same time, as part of a trio of mothers and daughters who all signed up together. She was 47 years old and didn’t even know how to swim. “So, I had to learn how to swim and learn a few basics for synchronized swimming as very much an adult,” she explains. Lorraine also gave up smoking. “I did that because you cannot swim and hold your breath and smoke at the same time. It just doesn't work really well. So, I did all that. I took some years off here and there… but I’ve pretty much been swimming since then.”
In addition to swimming three times per week she also stays active in the gym, as cross training is a big part of staying in top shape for her sport. Lorraine has competed in her age category at the provincial, national and international levels. She’s swam as part of a duet, a trio, and a 10-team combo, but it’s difficult to compete against Masters her age because there aren’t too many to be found.
“We often won, you know, first, second or third, but you always have to remember that there's just not that many,” says Lorraine. “Sometimes you win first and there was no one else to compete against.”
“There's definitely a core of the same competitors year after year. And there's people that come and go and shift around… at least in Alberta,” says Sara. “And the same thing in our club, too. We've seen masters come and go. We used to be one of the largest in Alberta for masters. And now we’re the smallest. Well, other than those (clubs) that didn't have any swimmers this year.”
Last season the club had 14 competitive swimmers in the provincial age categories, including Lorraine. The club also had 10 recreational swimmers.
In the past it was one of the bigger clubs with up to 70 or more members, but that was six or seven years ago. Sara believes the drop can be attributed to busy lives and she acknowledges there are lots of options for kids these days. It’s also difficult to keep people interested in the sport of artistic swimming when it usually takes a few years to see improvement. “But once they see it…” Sara says with a smile. “There really is that period of a couple of years to just even do the very basic skill.”
There are many benefits that come with being involved in artistic swimming. For the Lethbridge Synchrobelles, they focus on “fun, fitness and friendship.” Many of the girls build lifelong friendships while having fun in the pool. But they’re also developing balance, strength, flexibility, confidence, and team sportsmanship.
“We value sportsmanship when we go to competitions too,” says Sara. “I always try to tell the swimmers ‘Hey, go and say hi to somebody that you don't know, make friends with somebody, you know, be polite.’ They're developing communication skills, because they have to communicate with each other and the coach.”
Coordination is key, as each swimmer must be aware of what their body is doing at all times while holding their breath under water and counting to the beat of the music in their head. At the same time, they must be conscious of where their teammates are in the pool.
“It also taps into their creative soul,” says Lorraine. “It’s like dancing in the water.”
The sport is inclusive of all genders, they point out, as there are men competing at the world levels. They hope to attract more boys to the club.
Above all, there is a deep bond and camaraderie that develops between the swimmers and their coaches. Some swimmers have practiced together for a decade. But the bonding goes deeper than the pool they dive into. From bottle drives to barbeques and community activities, the team grows stronger by building relationships together.
“It's good to get them close out of the pool, because then they're closer in the pool,” says Sara. “They don't have to worry about practice, they can be themselves. And that makes a huge difference.”
Some swimmers move on to become certified coaches through the National Coaching Certification Program. It’s important to stay on top of training and professional development opportunities, they explain, as it can be a bit trickier to coach children in the water than a typical sport on land.
Programs are offered for swimmers ages 5 to adult in both recreational and competitive streams. In May, the Club hosts a yearend Watershow, which is an opportunity for the swimmers to perform their routines in front of an audience. Both women acknowledge that artistic swimming is a big commitment, and in order to achieve improvement it requires a lot of time spent in the pool. “The more you work at it, the better you're going to get,” says Sara. “Our sport is very specific for the skills you need and techniques you need to work on to improve. So, the more time in the pool, the better.”
For Lorraine, there are many benefits she’s realized to staying active in artistic swimming. At her age, she says, it’s important to work on things such as balance and core strength to prevent injuries. Above all, she’s noticed a real improvement in her athleticism.
“It's a fun sport,” says Lorraine. “It's a lot of work. It's very hard, I will tell you. But it's very rewarding.”