The president of one of the top five synchronized swim teams in the country laughs when she compares her duties with the nonprofit organization to selling illegal drugs on a dark street corner.
Lisa Jump does not deal with contraband. But she believes she offers something that is equally addictive.
“We offer the first class for free,” said Jump with a smile. “We make the offer because we know once the girls get a taste of the competition and the team work of synchronized swimming, they’ll be hooked.”
Jump knows first hand how the Olympic sport can consume the life of young women as well as their parents. She began as a casual poolside observer six years ago.
“The drive, the competition and the teamwork can be addicting,” she said. “But in a good way.”
In addition to the obligation to spend hours every week in the pool, Jump said participation in synchronized swimming has motivated her own daughter and other members of the Pacific Waves to learn to be organized so they can have time to complete the homework they bring home from school.
“My daughter knows she’ll be in the pool many nights until after 8pm, so she has learned to discipline herself to be sure she has enough time for the other parts of her life,” explained Jump.
Jump’s daughter, 15-year-old Macy, has been part of Pacific Waves since third grade. The maturity and commitment she has gained from the sport astonishes her mother.
The girls, said Jump, set goals for themselves both personally and as a team at the start of each season in October. Those aspirations can include everything from goals for a national ranking to higher scores with individual performances.
The Pacific Waves club set a high bar for themselves this year. One of the club’s teams advanced to the Junior Olympics in Oxford, Ohio, in 2018, where they finished fifth the nation.
Jump said the accomplishment was even more impressive when you realize the Top 5 finish was the first time the team had competed in the finals at the national level.
According to the team website, the sport of synchronized swimming has come a long way since the water ballet in Esther Williams movies. Synchronized swimmers today must combine the grace of a ballerina, the strength of a gymnast, the skills of a swimmer and water polo player with the endurance of a long-distance runner.
“Many people say it looks so easy,” said Jump. “And that’s the real skill, because judges appreciate the demands of the sport.”
Parents of girls on the team have compared the competition to performing a gymnastics routine while holding your breath for half of the performance.
“When you throw in the concept of gymnasts performing the same routine in unison, you begin to realize the challenge these girls have taken on,” said the proud mother.
Like gymnasts, synchronized swim competitions are divided into technical moves without music, followed by a choreographed routine that is judged on technical merit and artistic impression.
One of the most demanding skills comes with the technical difficulty based on how high a swimmer can propel herself out of the water.
Synchronized swimming has been an Olympic sport since 1984. Each team is divided into groups of novice, intermediate and advanced divisions in each age division with competition broken into performances for teams of eight swimmers, duets and solos.
Pacific Waves is a private club that includes about 30 swimmers who have been recruited from schools as far away as Federal Way, West Seattle and Maple Valley to compete with athletes from Gig Harbor. The club posts flyers with invitations to try out at the pool at the Federal Way Community Center as well as the King County Aquatic Center.
Newer members of Pacific Waves, said Jump, have come to the summer camp programs sponsored by the club at community pools throughout South King County.
Most of the girls joined Pacific Waves at a young age and have stayed with the program through the busy times of high school. Jump said only a few girls drop out every year because of conflicting obligations, but the vast majority sticks with the program for as long as they are eligible.
“It’s difficult to maintain conversations during a practice session in the pool,” said Jump. “Many of the girls go to different schools, but they love to talk during breaks. They also formed strong bonds during our road trips to Portland, Seattle and California.
“And they talked non-stop when we flew to the Junior Olympics in Ohio.”
The need for an Olympic-sized swimming pool limits the number of clubs that participate in authorized competition. Jump said her swimmers compete against a lot of the same teams and many of the same girls multiple times during every season. That includes one team that travels to Western Washington from Montana.
The club president said the cost for use of the pool and need to travel means synchronized swimming can cost athletes (and their families) more than soccer or Little League baseball. The cost factor has forced Jump to dedicate her time as administrator of the private club to fundraising in an effort to make the sport accessible to athletes from all income levels.
Practices are held at one of three pools in either Federal Way or Gig Harbor. There are also team workouts and strength sessions held on dry land.
Pacific Waves also sponsors Masters Competitive and Masters Recreational programs for adults.
Tryouts are held once per year. Swimmers are placed on a team and a category of competition based on the judgement of the seven coaches.
The addictive free first class in synchronized swimming is available at two pools in Federal Way as well the facility at Peninsula High School in Gig Harbor. Registration can be made through the Pacific Waves website at PacificWavesSynchro.org.
Dan Aznoff is a freelance writer based in Mukilteo, Washington. He was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and has received acclamation for his work in the areas of sustainable energy and the insurance industry. Aznoff is the author of three books that document colorful periods of history in Washington.