A synchronized swimming team in Winnipeg may not rack up many competition medals, but they're major contenders for dads of the year.
Aquatica Synchro Men's Team is not only the first all-male team in Manitoba, but it's also made up entirely of dads and spouses of the club's female athletes. Nine of the members are dads of girls who are synchronized swimmers with the club, while two are husbands of women involved in the typically female-dominated sport.
And now they're training to perform their routine in May (set to Queen's classic anthem "We Will Rock You") in order to support the women in their lives and to encourage more boys to try synchronized swimming. After all, men can now compete in the mixed duet at the international level. The team's goal is to raise money for the club, as well as awareness.
Synchronized swimming, also known as artistic swimming, has been an Olympic sport since 1984. It involves performing a synchronized water routine set to music, with a number of technical requirements. Teams are scored for technical merit and artistic impression.
Canada has won eight Olympic medals in the sport.
"I thought it was a fantastic idea," the club's head coach Holly Hjartarson told HuffPost Canada. Her husband is "one of the husbands" on the team, she added with a laugh.
"It's a great opportunity to showcase the sport, and to showcase this population within our club, which is the dads that are really involved. They're driving their girls to the pool, they're sitting at the pool watching them, but they don't really get recognized that much."
One of the dads on the team, Christian Gosselin, said the idea for the all-men's team came up as they were pondering ways to mark the 10th anniversary of the club, find ways to get boys into the sport, and support their daughters.
"This checked all the boxes," Gosselin, who has two young daughters in the synchro club, told the Winnipeg Free Press.
"It's a really very challenging sport," Gosselin said in another interview with CBC "As It Happens."
"I guess that the best comparison I've heard is that it's like running 400 metres while holding your breath."
The team trains once a week, and they take it very seriously, Hjartarson told HuffPost Canada. They're in no way trying to make fun of the sport or trivializing it, she added. The men work hard to nail the figures, the routines, and their counting.
And, wouldn't you know it, they're not half bad.
"They're coming along. They're working really hard," she said.
But coaching men has come with some unexpected hurdles. Their buoyancy is different than that of a typical woman, Hjartarson said, and many of them are having trouble keeping their feet from sinking. And when they do land drills (practicing the routine's movements and patterns on land, over and over, to drill them into memory), Hjartarson has to stand on a table or chair in order to see what's happening since they're all much taller than she is.
Plus, standard nose clips don't fit on the men's faces — a big problem for a sport where you spend much of your time upside-down underwater.
"The whole first practice, so many of them were just struggling with trying to get their nose clip to stay on. So we had to order large nose clips for them to use so that they could actually go upside-down comfortably," Hjartarson said.
(Take note, NASA).
"It's important just to break the stereotype that this isn't all glitter and smiles and this easy sport. It is a sport. You need a lot of athleticism to be able to do it, and a lot of strength," Hjartarson said.
"And now these dads — that are these strong men — are really showing that 'hey, we're going to do everything it takes to support our daughters, and we're going to show everyone that this isn't as easy as they make it look.'"
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