Diving into the Sport

A junior Olympic athlete talks about her experience


Erica and her teammates pose before beginning a routine at the Junior Olympics last year.

by Katherine Hikin, Staff Writer

It was an uneventful, rainy afternoon in Osaka, Japan. Erica was propped up on her couch with a silky blanket over her legs. She sat in her living room, crunching on a snack, indulged in a thick book. Erica spent many afternoons like this and enjoyed the quiet time. She was only ten years old and had been living in Japan for a couple months. Her mom felt that at such a youthful age Erica didn’t spend enough time exercising and doing other activities outside of the house. Little did Erica know, she was in for a big surprise that day.

She had seen the building before, watching kids run to the enormous, glass door entrance, clutching their towels and flip-flops. She recalled her mom telling her about this synchronized swimming facility, where some of the best teams practiced. Erica had always despised swimming and found it pointless and boring, so she expected this surprise trip to be a complete disaster.

As she entered the building, holding her mom’s hand, she was instantly captivated. The bright, lean hallway led to an even bigger set of doors, through which Erica could see an immense, aquamarine swimming pool. Erica’s mom saw the excitement on her child’s face and did not hesitate to sign her up for classes. Soon, Erica found herself entering the same glass door every week, still mesmerized by the view of the pool.

“After I came home from Japan, we found a club at the Ridgewood YWCA and I continued synchronized swimming,” Erica said.

As she grew older, Erica wanted to challenge herself and become more competitive with the unique sport. She ended up joining the M Synchronized Swimming Team, the team she currently competes for.

“From there I just kept getting better all the way to where I am now,” Erica said.

A regular week for Erica consists of balancing loads of homework, school, and 14 to 18 hours of synchronized swimming practice. During practices the team explores a variety of skills by running, sprinting, doing long distance, regular working out, splits, gymnastics, routines, technical figures, lifts, and swimming.

“A lot of times we will have a 10 or 15 minute snack breaks in between because if we don’t we’ll lose too many calories,” Erica explained.

With practice, Erica gradually acquired many new abilities and expanded her talent in the sport. Last April, her team made it to Nationals in Arizona. Erica was beyond excited because it was her very first time going to a high level competition. It was also her first outdoor pool competition.

The M Synchronized Swimming Team attended Nationals in Arizona in April last year and really enjoyed their experience at the competition.

“I was really nervous because not many teams from the East Coast go to the competition because athletes on the West Coast are better and it’s a pretty long trip there,” Erica said.

After seeing the West Coast athletes, with their tan skin and buff bodies, Erica’s heart pounded and the nerves pulsed through her. Although her team didn’t place, Erica and her teammates felt very accomplished and were beyond grateful for this experience.

“The whole trip was like a show because it felt so unreal that I was there with all of these amazing people,” Erica said.

A huge inspiration for Erica has been her coach, Mary Kim. Kim was the youngest member of the Korean national synchronized swimming team during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. After coaching in Korea for ten years, Kim moved to the United States in 2012, and only established the M Synchronized Swimming Team in 2014. She loves teaching the unique sport and comes up with her own routines through her knowledge, experience, and by watching videos of other professionals.

“Erica is a very nice and hard working athlete, who strives to be better all the time and I really appreciate all the time she puts in to help the entire team,” Kim said.

Although she can be strict, Erica refers to her coach as her second mom. Kim cooks for the team, teaches them, and takes time to personally coach everyone to be the best they can be. When she’s not in school, Erica is always around her coach and feels free to go to her for advice.

Unlike many other synchronized swimmers, who start their careers at an extremely young age, Erica only started competing at the age of 12.

“Coach Mary was the only coach that told me that she could make me a national level athlete form the point that I was,” Erica said. “I put in a lot of hard work, but it would have been nothing with my coach.”

Along with her coach, Erica’s teammates bolster her confidence every day and always motivate her to improve.

Erica’s friend, Abby has been doing synchronized swimming for four years and has been on three different competition teams. She participated in the National competition with Erica two years in a row and loved the experience. Synchronized swimming is one of her favorite activities and she always enjoys spending time with her supportive teammates.

Alice Jiang, one of Erica’s teammates enjoys the sport because of the values of it, and the effort that each and every one of them have to bring to the table.

“Even though some aspects of the sport are both physically and mentally demanding, I enjoy it a lot, mainly because of the people and artistic values of the sport,” Alice Jiang said.

The M Synchronized Swimming Team perform an intense routine in the pool at Junior Olympics in 2016.

    Erica is currently  the New Jersey Junior State representative and state champion for all junior routines and elements, the captain of her team, and the assistant coach for younger age groups.  She plans on continuing her synchronized swimming journey by attending three camps this summer, going to the U.S Open for Synchronized Swimming, and competing in the Junior Olympics.