Even though she grew up in a family where synchronized swimming was more than just a sport, Olivia Schafer didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
However, Schafer changed her mind once she actually saw the sport up close; six years later, she’s getting ready to compete in one of its biggest events.
Schafer is entered in the 2016 U.S. National Synchronized Swimming Championships, to be held April 5-9 at the Skyline Aquatic Center in Mesa, Ariz.
The 14-year-old Pine Lake Prep student who lives in Davidson qualified for the U.S. Nationals in three events – 13-15 solo, 13-15 duet and 13-15 team – the most of any of the swimmers from the Carolina Synchro team.
“I was really excited to get to go to Arizona, because I’ve never been there,” Schafer said. “But I’m also excited to go to a meet like that. We’ve been to (Junior Olympics), but (the U.S. Nationals) is a whole different level.”
Schafer qualified for the U.S. Nationals with three top-five finishes at the U.S.A Synchro South Zone Championships, held in mid-March in Lewisville, Texas.
Schafer’s Carolina Synchro 13-15 team finished second at the South Zone Championships. She then teamed with Marian Catahan, a classmate at Pine Lake Prep, to finish third in the 13-15 duet division, and finished fifth in the 13-15 solo division.
Also qualifying for the U.S. Nationals from Carolina Synchro – which trains at Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics – Catahan, Elaina Anderson, Angelina Bayrak, Campbell Cupples, Kelsey Dolack, Abbey Oliver and Sarah Stump in the 13-15 team competition; and Emma Stump, 18 and a Charlotte Catholic senior, in the junior solo division.
“Olivia’s lucky that she has a very strong team,” said Carolina Synchro founder and coach Anne Schulte, who is Schafer’s mother. “Her team is just a really great group of girls – they’re all very hard working, very focused, and very dedicated.
“But she didn’t want to do synchro at first. The very first year we had the team, she said, ‘I’m not doing that.’ In fact, her younger sister Cassie started before her.”
When Schulte – an All-American in synchronized swimming at Ohio State in the early 1980s – founded Carolina Synchro in 2009, Schafer was already involved in another sport.
“At the time, I was really into gymnastics,” Schafer said. “I had been doing that since I was 4. … and I was also doing soccer, so I didn’t have the time.”
Then Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics hosted the 2010 U.S. Nationals, and Schafer was in the stands watching for most of the weeklong competition.
“I watched it, and thought it was really cool,” Schafer said. “They were just really, really good.”
Schafer said her background in gymnastics gave her a leg up in learning the techniques of synchronized swimming.
“It really helped, because I had already developed the strength to do this sport,” Schafer said. “The flexibility was also there, too. … I also did the (Junior Swim League) through SwimMAC when I was younger.”
But there were a few things Schafer said she had to learn, as well.
“I had to learn how to swim around other people,” she said. “I also had to develop my core strength even more, because it’s harder to control your body in the water than on land.
“It took about 2-3 years for everything to sink in, but when I got to around 11-12, that’s when I started to get a lot better and become nationally competitive.”
Even though Schafer is just a freshman at Pine Lake Prep, she’s thinking about riding her skills in synchronized swimming to the next level.
Very few colleges have synchro teams – only five in the United States have varsity-level programs, with another 17 having club-level teams, according to U.S.A Synchro.
Yet that’s not stopping Schafer, and she knows where she’d like to go.“I really want to swim in college – since third grade, I’ve wanted to swim at Ohio State, like my mom did,” Schafer said.
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.