Freshman Liz Zhang makes waves with synchronized swimming

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By Katherine Lee, Web Master

 “All of us were so burnt, and our whole backs were peeling. Whatever you did, you just had to keep pushing through.”

Freshman Liz Zhang is describing the physical demands that accompanies the rigor of the camps she has attended. According to Zhang, synchronized swimming is often underestimated. It’s a sport that requires hours of intense training to reach a certain level of strength and control.

Last summer, at the invitational National Talent Development camp, Zhang trained under Reem Abdalazeem, an Egyptian Olympian and the current USA Synchro senior national team coach. Zhang has also attended several prestigious invitational summer camps and clinics, including the East Zone Camp and the Lake Placid Clinic in 2017, both hosted by Olympic synchronized swimmers. The swimmers often train for the whole day, in some cases for 16 hours, and are put under a strict diet. 

“Your goal is to just try and do your best,” Zhang said. “You have to have a particular mindset because it’s very stressful.”

When not at camps, Zhang trains for four days a week, three to four hours a day, at the Phoenixville YMCA for Philadelphia Freedom Valley Synchro. At each practice, she spends at least two hours on cardio, weight training and lung exercises. In order to hold their breath and keep themselves above the water without touching the bottom of the pool, lung exercises are particularly emphasized. The second half of the practices are spent in the pool, working on routines and performances as a team. 

“Our goal is to make it look easy, but people don’t understand how much it takes to make it look that easy,” Zhang said. “It takes a lot of strength and we have to work up to that.”

Synchronized swimming, also known as artistic swimming, is a combination of swimming, dance and gymnastics. In either solo or team performances, swimmers execute an elaborate routine of moves in the water. 

“It’s kind of like dancing upside down in the water. It’s also a team-centered sport, because it requires everyone to work together,” Zhang said.

Zhang first tried out synchronized swimming when she was five years old and began taking it seriously when she was seven. Zhang has competitively engaged in the sport for seven years. Zhang has numerous accomplishments throughout those years, a few of which include making the East Zone All-Star team, attending the East Zone Silver Clinic, and prequalifying for the National Team Trials Phase 2. Recently, at a Junior Olympics qualifications meet on May 11 and 12, Zhang qualified for 16-19 duet and 13-15 combo. 16-19 and 13-15 represent the age range of the divisions in which she qualified.

Although there are around 20 synchronized swimmers in the middle schools, Zhang is currently the only one at ’Stoga. Often overshadowed by its more popular counterpart, regular swimming, synchronized swimming is often underestimated and not given recognition compared to other sports. According to Zhang, synchronized swimming receives less funding, and her team has to share pool time with swimming teams, so half of the time during practices are spent out of the water.

Therefore, Zhang hopes to raise awareness and recognition for the sport. This year, she attended an Aquatic convention in Florida as a representative of Pennsylvania for USA Synchro to speak out for the representation of the sport. Additionally, she participates in water shows over the summer with her team, where they go to different places in the country and put on performances. They also have Try Synchro days where younger kids can come and try out synchro.

“I think my end goal in a bigger picture would be to get more people to know about synchro and really understand what it is as sport,” Zhang said.