First century poet Martial made one of the earliest references to synchronized swimming. He described a group of women performing acrobatics in a flooded Coliseum delighting Roman elite. They dove, swam and created elaborate formations and nautical shapes in the water, such as the outline or form of a trident, an anchor and a ship with billowing sails. They were called Nereids, or “water nymphs.”
In Edina “ancient” history, circa 1959, two teenage girls, Beth Foss and Linda Seashore, formed a club they called “Aqua Nymphs,” carrying on ancient Roman tradition. Their nod to Greek mythology has endured. Synchronized swimming has been quietly influencing Edina’s landscape for almost 60 years while performing dazzling acrobatics to packed audiences.
Until 1975, it was a highly competitive club. Now, it is a no-cut sport that is a place for any girl to belong, yet remains rigorous.
Carla Steffen, coach since 2001, views the 55- to 65-member team as a “great place for girls to thrive. There is competition for those top spots but,” she says, “I will make a place for everyone.”
Steffen joined as a student in 1981 when a friend encouraged her to check it out. Early on, only 11th and 12th graders participated. Then, the program slowly expanded to other grades. In 1980, seventh graders could join. Steffen was hooked. “It is available to so many types of girls ... everyone belongs,” she says.
In 1976, synchronized swim became an Edina High School sport because of Title IX. Kendal Loewen, a member of the team then says, “I am happy that it was a part of a gender equity movement and the start of a new culture.”
Women who spoke of their experience on the team talked about the challenges of holding your breath for long periods of time, of getting the routine down and the many hours in the pool. (Currently, girls practice two–three hours each day during the 11-week season.). But mostly, they talked about camaraderie.
Kathy Monson Lutes coached the team from 1980–1992 (participated 1972–75) and says, “I loved being part of that group of girls. We worked hard. We had a lot of fun. I knew girls older and younger than me. We sort of looked out for each other.” Big and little sisters were assigned at the beginning of the season. “We did everything together from practices to breakfast before school. It created a whole community. We depended upon each other,” Lutes says.
Steffen continues the “sisters” tradition because it fosters good role models. She says, “Older girls are paired with younger ones creating someone to connect with.”
The bonds last. When Loewen requested reflections upon their time together, the response was overwhelmingly about the friendships that were created.
Sally Vulich recalls her synchro days with humor. “Of course we were bonded as lifetime friends way back then—who else are we going to allow to put their feet around our necks … tightly?” she says.
Suds Nice says, “We were in good shape and didn’t realize it!”
Cindy Northrup, who was Steffen’s “little sister,” says, “I met people I don't think I would have met. There were cool girls, sports girls; it was open to everyone.”
Rhea Hammond, currently a ninth grader, and Maggie Lundberg (Class of 2017) agree. “The thing I most enjoy is the people,” says Hammond, and “I was able to build close relationships,” says Lundberg.
Historically, all that effort has resulted in relationships formed that run as deep as any pool.
Interested in Synchronized Swimming? Click here!
Hopkins @ Edina, Thursday, May 10, 4:30 p.m.
Monday, May 14, 7 p.m., Southview Middle School, Art Downey Aquatic Center, Tickets $5