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A Pearl in the pool

Freshman artistic swimmer qualifies for this summer's U.S. Junior Olympic Championships

Bella Russo, Mac Photojournalism

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Pearl Heinley (front row center) poses with her team after competing at Youth Synchronized Swimming Nationals April 12-15 at the Westside Aquatic Center in Lewisville. Photo courtesy of Heinley.

When some hear the term “synchronized swimming,” chances are their mind instantly goes to water aerobics or shampoo commercials featuring rows of old ladies diving into a pool one by one. Freshman Pearl Heinley, an art major and McCallum’s resident synchronized swimmer, knows this is not the case.

There’s a lot of perception that [synchronized swimming is] just pretty and light, like it’s jazzercise or something. It’s not, it’s really freaking hard.”

— Freshman Pearl Heinley

“People think that it’s just hair and makeup and smiling, that we’re just water ballet and we swim backwards and smile and wear it those swim caps with flowers on them,” Heinley said. “There’s a lot of perception that it’s just pretty and light, like it’s jazzercise or something. It’s not, it’s really freaking hard.”

By definition, synchronized swimming (or artistic swimming as it has been recently renamed) is a combination of swimming, dance, and gymnastics. Athletes are expected to not only have musical coordination, flexibility, and talent, but also extreme physical strength and stamina. This combination of skills is required, as synchronized swimmers such as Pearl and her teammates are expected to perform “tricks” like lifts and jumps without ever touching the bottom of the pool.

Originally, Heinley had aspirations to become a dancer, but she was urged by her parents to pick up a team sport. It was in her search for a middle ground that Pearl stumbled upon syncro, and decided to give it a try.

“I was doing swimming at the time and I absolutely hated it,” Heinly said, “so I decided I’d do synchronized swimming because it was like a combination of dance and a sport.” After some online research, Heinly decided to join the Austin Angel Fish, the only competitive youth synchronized swimming team in Austin.

“I’m really happy I’m on the team. I like the structure and the dance aspect, [and] I really like being able to present and perform and still be a part of a team.”

Westlake junior Catherine Caradine and Mac freshman Pearl Heinley prepare to enter the pool during her duet swim. Photo courtesy of Heinley.

It is no overstatement to say that Heinley, despite being in only her second year of synchronized swimming, has proven herself invaluable to the strength of her team and currently competes in every one of the four categories that are judged in Syncro.

“I am in Combo, duet, team, and technical routines.” Heinly said, listing her roles in the water. “I do a lot of the lifts, and I’m in the front of a lot of patterns.”

As a student athlete and an art major, it is safe to say that Heinley is no stranger to hard work. However, this year her countless hours at practices 4-5 days a week and competitions all across the country have paid off for Heinley, as she has recently qualified to compete in the U.S. Junior Olympic Championships in Oxford, Ohio this summer.

“I’m pretty excited to be competing in Ohio this summer,” Heinley said. “Usually I don’t really like competitions, but the Junior Olympics is a pretty big deal for our club, and it’ll be my first time ever going. So far, qualifying has been my biggest achievement.”

The Junior Olympics is a pretty big deal for our club, and it’ll be my first time ever going. So far, qualifying has been my biggest achievement.”

— Freshman Pearl Heinley

Even with a lot of competition on her plate, Pearl still finds time to think about the future. Although her main passions involve the arts, the aspiring fashion designer hopes to continue on with synchronized swimming and possibly get the chance to swim through a University after graduation.

“Because of Title IX, synchronized swimming is getting more money for scholarships, so Stanford has a really awesome synchronized swimming team,” said Heinley, whose next big goal is to be a part of an even bigger, college team.

Pearl dreams of introducing the sport to other students, and maybe even starting her own team at McCallum, but right now, Mac’s one and only synchronized swimmer is doing just fine on her own, and she has a bid to the Junior Olympics to show for it.

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A Pearl in the pool