Getting it together


July 19, 1998|By Nancy Jackson

A synchronized swimmer effortlessly raises one leg into the air as she floats on the water's surface, but behind that graceful maneuver are years of conditioning.

In the case of some synchronized swimmers, it's a lot of years of conditioning. "One of the beauties of synchronized swimming is that you can grow old with the sport," says Martha Copeland, a 54-year-old who swims and competes with the D.C. Synchromasters, who perform and compete in national and regional competitions. It's not unusual, she says, to see women competing into their 70s.

But to do so, synchronized swimmers must maintain their flexibility and their ability to hold their breath for extended periods under water.

Describing how she does a ballet leg, with the knee locked and the toe pointed, Copeland says, "You really have to stretch it up there." She stretches every single day. She bends down and grabs her ankles and remains like that for several minutes, stretching the muscles in the back of the leg. She sits on the floor, with her legs spread, and reaches first down one leg and then the other.

She visits a gym three times a week to work out on a treadmill, which helps her breath control, and she uses Nautilus equipment to improve her strength. She also swims laps twice a week for 30 or 40 minutes - underwater. "You hold your breath and go as far as you can under water," she says, adding that her goal is 25 meters.

She practices once a week with the D.C. Synchromasters and practices again on the weekend with a group near her Frederick home.

Copeland, a social worker who has taken a year's leave to study computers, first became interested in synchronized swimming in college. At the University of Texas at Austin, she saw a synchronized swim team and was fascinated. But although she was a good swimmer, there was no place at the college level for a novice.

Years later, when she was living in Washington, she discovered that the YWCA offered classes in synchronized swimming. "I didn't start learning the sport until I was 30," she recalls.

As a result of the classes, she joined the Aqua Gems, a show group that eventually evolved into a competitive group. In competition, a solo routine lasts three minutes and a group routine five minutes.

From those few minutes come enduring lessons. Synchronized swimming, Copeland says, inspires discipline, improves the ability to focus and gives her poise, confidence and a sense of accomplishment. "Those apply not only to swimming, but to all other areas of my life."

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