A chance viewing of synchronized swimming on television got Emma Stump interested in the sport.
Twelve years later, the senior at Charlotte Catholic is going to compete in one of the sport’s biggest events.
Stump is entered in the 2016 U.S. National Synchronized Swimming Championships, April 5-9 at the Skyline Aquatic Center in Mesa, Ariz.
Stump, 18, qualified for the U.S. Nationals by finishing fifth in the Junior Solo division at the U.S.A. Synchro South Zone Championships, held in mid-March in Lewisville, Texas.
“I love the water – I can swim in it for hours – and I love dancing,” said Stump, who lives in Cornelius. “So water and dancing together seemed like the perfect sport for me.”
Stump grew up trying nearly every sport, but gravitated toward swimming and dance. “I used to do Irish dancing,” she said. “I started dancing in kindergarten.”
But when the 2004 Summer Olympic Games were being held in Athens Greece, Stump happened to tune in to the synchronized swimming competition.
“I was just 7 years old,” Stump said.
A year later, Stump discovered Carolina Synchro coach Anne Schulte’s synchronized swimming program at the Lake Norman YMCA in Cornelius.
“She was with me there – it was just a little recreation program then,” said Schulte, an All-American in synchronized swimming at Ohio State in the early 1980s. “When I restarted the program at Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics (in 2009), she was in my very first class there.
“When she started, she swam just an hour a week because she was so little. It’s really gratifying to see how she’s grown … and she’s qualified for Nationals. It’s pretty amazing.”
The background in dance gave an advantage when she first began her synchronized swimming training, Stump said.
“It really gave me the strength and rhythm,” she said. “It allowed me to flow in the water, to be able to move with the water.
“It wasn’t too big of a change for me. I’ve always been busy – I’ve done every sport imaginable – and that was the same for me.”
This is the fifth straight year that Stump has qualified for the U.S. Nationals. She finished 13th in Junior Solo at last year’s event.
That record of success has Stump set to compete at the next level.
She’s signed with Wheaton College, one of just five colleges and universities in the United States to have a varsity-level synchronized swimming program, according to U.S.A. Synchro. The others are Ohio State, Stanford, Canisius and Incarnate Word.
“There’s about 20 or so (colleges) that have teams, and 10 of those are really competitive,” Stump said. “But most of them are club teams.”
The fact that Stump has earned a scholarship for synchronized swimming – much less that she competes in a sport that first became recognized by the Olympic in 1984 – also draws attention from her friends.
“When I first tell them, they don’t know what to think,” Stump said. “But once they see it, they are really in amazement of what I do.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.