Karen Nolan was in for a surprise when she went to register her daughter, Krista, for a synchronized swimming class three years ago.
“I called to get my daughter signed up, and they said, ‘Oh, no. You’re going to coach it,’” the Maryville mother of two said.
Nolan, a graduate of Roane County High School in Kingston, had a life-long background in the sport. It seemed an immediate fit for East Tennessee Dolphins coach Beth Bergeron, who was looking to retire.
Fast forward three years, and Nolan is branching out, last week concluding a beginner’s class in the sport at the pool at Green Meadow Country Club.
“The girls had a ball, and they really put their hearts into it,” she said. “They kept wanting to get in the water: ‘Can we do that again?’”
The hope is to found a synchronized swim club in Blount County, Nolan said. The Dolphins, headquartered in Knoxville, are the only club for the sport in the state. Having a nearby club with which to train and compete would ease travel burdened to regional competitions significantly.
Plus, as an alternative to summer swim teams that focus on racing, “water ballet,” as Krista, 8, describes it, is a lot of fun.
“Synchro gives you that creativity,” Nolan said. “If you like to dance, it give lets you be creative. This just gives the girls another avenue. It’s also a team sport.”
Nolan came to sport as a youth when, while growing up in Virginia, U.S. national team official Kris Olson was directing a local club. Olson is currently a judge for synchronized swimming events at the Beijing Olympics. Nolan has maintained a friendship with her mentor, having attended coaching clinics with Olson at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“My father was trying to find something for me to do and he saw an ad,” she said.
Work with the Roane County team led to traveling to meets all over the U.S., Nolan said. A natural, she excelled at the sport, amassing a collection of trophies that would one day catch Krista’s eye.
“I saw some of her medals and it looked really interesting to do,” Krista said.
For her, success in synchronized swimming would give way to being a teenager, Nolan said.
“Coach wanted us to start training for the Olympics,” she said, “but I was in high school.”
Not to worry. Krista’s got the bug.
“When I get able to, I really want to go to the Olympics for synchro,” she said.
Nolan’s three-week course at Green Meadow included six hours of swimming, during which swimmers, most new to the sport, were shown the basic. She and Bergeron, who attended the exhibition, anticipated the class would draw no more than 10 swimmers when they conceived the idea.
“We ended up having 21,” Nolan said. “This town is so great in the way parents really get their kids involved in things. Staying active is a good thing for them.”
While basic, the routine was still tough, Krista said.
“It’s really hard because you have to keep your body up,” she said. “If you go underwater and blow bubbles out of your nose, it does not look pretty.”
“A lot of the time, you’re under the water holding your breath 30 or 40 seconds at a time,” Nolan said.
Last week’s turnout encouraged her to pursue holding another class, perhaps in January, at Maryville College, she said. With the high school swim season fast approaching, pool availability will soon be at a premium.
Outdoor pools, like the one at Green Meadows, close for the winter by Labor Day. The pool at Maryville is one of only three options locally for indoor swimming, the other two members-only, full-service fitness centers.
“We really need a YMCA here,” Nolan said.
Swimmers who took part in the inaugural synchronized swimming course at Green Meadow include:
• Beginner Red Team – Lauren Maxwell, Elizabeth Sonner, Erica Snell, Kelsey Proffitt, Natalie Clair Gross.
• Beginner Tie Dye Team – Madison Drake, Jansey Brewer, Meredith Graham, Lauren Ingleston, Katie Schoepke, Lauren Williamson, Abby Minor.
• Beginner Duet – Maryn Brewer, Kristina McCune.
• Intermediate Team – Samantha Walker, Emily Reynolds, Caitlyn Carpenter, Rachel Britt, Julia Snell.
• Advanced Duet – Charlotte Richardson, Krista Nolan.
• Instructors – Karen Nolan, coach East Tennessee Dolphins; Morgan Johnson, Kelsey Worsham, assistant coaches.