Swimming duo synchs up to a strenuous new sport
July 9, 2013
By Neil Pierson
As first-time competitors at the national level, it was understandable for synchronized swimmers Leeza Polyakova and Meili Hobson to be a bit tense.
Polyakova and Hobson, who are both Sammamish residents, had to ignore their apprehension last month as part of the Seattle Synchronized Swim Team’s performance at the eSynchro Age Group Championships in Riverside, Calif.
It wasn’t an easy task. The girls are relatively new to the sport, having gotten involved within the past two years, and they were competing in front of several hundred people at the meet — easily the biggest crowd they’ve seen.
Hobson, 11, who will enter the fifth grade this fall at Creekside Elementary School, felt a lot of nerves as she entered the pool at Riverside City College for the first time.
“I kind of blocked all that out, but when I was in the middle of the routine and I was underwater, I just felt like staying there,” Hobson said. “But I just kept going on.”
Seattle Synchro — comprised of Polyakova; Hobson; Ivy Huang, of Bellevue; and Sonja Hendricks and Lauren Watson, of Kirkland — placed 25th out of 32 teams in the 11- and 12-year-old division. With none of the girls having experience at nationals, it wasn’t a disappointment, they said.
The team has proven its dedication in the past year, meeting at least three times per week for workouts and practices. A typical practice lasts two to three hours, and includes plenty of strength and core training along with working in the water.
“It would take us a couple months to learn the full routine, and it would just be very difficult for some people, and by some people, I mean me,” said Polyakova, 11, who will move from Carson Elementary School to Inglewood Middle School this fall.
“Sometimes it can be really fun, sometimes it can be really challenging, sometimes it can be both,” she said. “But you just have to practice and get the routine down.”
Along with the five-athlete team event, the girls also formed competitive duets. Out of 37 teams in the 11-12 division, Hendricks and Watson placed 29th, while Polyakova and Huang were 31st.
The team qualified for nationals in May at a regional meet in Oregon, winning a bronze medal. Polyakova and Huang won bronze in duet competition.
Endurance is a huge key for success, the girls said. They often hold their breath for 15-30 seconds during their underwater maneuvers, and they have to tread water the entire time. Touching the bottom of the pool results in point deductions.
“Basically, it’s not that challenging as you do it more,” Hobson said. “But when I first started, it was challenging for me, and whenever our coach would add something or make it more challenging, it would take me a while … to finally learn.”
Polyakova and Hobson have prior training in traditional swimming, but they say they prefer synchronized swimming for its creativity.
Hobson is a multisport athlete, too, playing soccer and studying karate, where she’s earned an orange belt.
The choreography of synchro is difficult, as the athletes must perform their tasks with precision, and moves like the ballet leg — lying on your back while raising your leg vertically — are physically exhausting.
Alexey Polyakov, Polyakova’s father, compares a synchro routine to an 800-meter individual medley swim. Athletes have to be versatile enough to master the crawl, back, breast and butterfly strokes.
The girls credit their coach, Shannon Wing-Bishop, for motivating them. Even though they’re not yet teenagers, determination often outweighs having fun. That’s particularly true prior to an important meet, Hobson said.
“She’s really hard on us … because she wants us to improve and we’re just goofing around, and she’s just frustrated with us,” Hobson said.
Polyakova and Hobson plan to stick with the sport for the foreseeable future, and they hope to make many return trips to the national championships.
“It was kind of interesting seeing what routines there were,” Polyakova said, “and it was just a great experience.”