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Synchronized swimmers led by mother/daughter team

    It was “ A Night at the Movies” on April  19-21 at the Kennedy Secondary School in Fergus Falls. You’d expect movies, but it was the annual Synchronized Swim Show featuring music from the movies. Almost 40 swimmers performed by dancing on the pool deck and swimming intricate moves in time to the music and synchronized with each other.

    The day of the performance started at 4:30 in the afternoon when the girls gathered to have their hair put into French braids. To give the look of  a synchronized group, their hair needed to looks the same. The swimmers all wore matching suits, and no jewelry was worn to make any one girl stand out. The swimmers all got in place and mentally went through their routines. At 6:30 they disappeared from sight as the spectators started to arrive. At 7 the lights went down and the swimmers and coaches gathered for a prayer at the side of the pool. The swimmers, who are seniors, each threw a penny in the pool for luck. There were a few moments of silence for the victims of the Boston bombing and Texas disaster. Then two swimmers sang the national anthem while other swimmers swam in formation with American flags. The spotlight came up, the underwater pool lights went on, the music started, and for the next hour and a half, spectators were astounded at what these capable swimmers could do in the water. The emcee guided the audience through the show and announced each group of swimmers before they performed.

    Deb Holicky and Amanda Thormodson, a mother/daughter team, are the coaches for this annual event.  Holicky has been coaching synchronized swimming for 35 years, 25 years in Fergus Falls, and Thormodson has been coaching for 16 years. The show has always involved the family. All three of Holicky’s children have been swimmers in the show. Both of her daughters, Amanda and Jess, swam for eight years and her son, Frances, swam in one show. Holicky’s husband, Jerome, videotapes the show. Spotlights are operated by Holicky’s daughter, Jess Price, and Thormodson’s husband, Tom. Frances also operated spotlights for many years before he moved to Wisconsin. When the children were younger they had other roles on the deck, such as acting, coordinating props or dancing. Holicky and her daughters performed together in two past shows.

    Holicky’s first involvement with synchronized swimming was in college when she took classes in synchronized swimming and choreography. When she was hired to teach  in Montgomery, Minn. she was responsible for the synchronized swim club. “They had a beautiful pool that was set up for this sport. I had an area under the spectator stands where I could do the moves to help the girls while they were swimming in case they needed cues.” she said. “We had multiple shows per year, and the swimmers wore tights and costumes in the water.”

    Fergus Falls has had a synchronized swim club for over 30 years. Holicky first became involved as a coach  in Fergus Falls when she started the junior team for swimmers from fifth to eighth-grade through the YMCA. In her  last 25 years of coaching, she has worked with six other coaches and hundreds of swimmers. “Some swimmers start in the fifth-grade and stay until they graduate from high school. Others have started in their senior year and only swam the one year. Most of our seniors swim for at least three years,” said Holicky.

    Thormodson started coaching as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award Project as a senior in high school. “We were going to lose our junior team program so I thought it was a perfect project to help maintain the opportunity for my sister and other girls her age,” said Thormodson. She continued on and has expanded her coaching role over the years. She now works with both the senior and junior clubs.

    Synchronized swimming is much harder than it looks. It takes a lot of strength to execute some of the stunts. Swimmers have to be able to hold their breath for long periods of time while doing moves upside down in the water. They have to have a sense of rhythm to perform the stunts to the music. They also have to make sure they are doing it together with their teammates so it looks fluid. Then there is the smile that they wear as they swim and concentrate on remembering what they need to do next. As the students move from junior club to senior club they also do more of their own choreography. Many mentor the younger swimmers, too. This is an opportunity for swimmers to excel in a challenging, noncompetitive environment and have fun.

    Shows have changed over the years as the swimmers get more experience and want to try or create new moves. Technology has also created changes putting the show together. “I used to have to bring more stereo equipment, and the first year I used record albums. The next year I purchased a stereo with my money so I could record music for each number on cassette tapes. Our music is all compiled on a computer now, and we have one CD for the whole show. We also used to have a slide show of all the swimmers. Now with digital photography we take lots of pictures.  Amanda and Tom create a PowerPoint presentation with the pictures that we present as part of the show,” explained Holicky.

    The current synchronized swim clubs are coordinated though Fergus Falls Community Education. The swimmers sign up through community education in late fall and then the swimmers learn skills and work toward the spring show. The show is usually the third weekend in April unless Easter falls on that weekend.  The teams have historically been all girls. Many years members of the boys’ swim team join the high school senior girls in a number.  It does not happen every year, but it was part of the show this year. The boys’ swim team members practice a few weeks before the show. The 2014 show will be the first weekend in May and feature music from Disney movies.

    Holicky has suggested that she needs to retire and the swimmers keep talking her into staying–just until they graduate. As long as there is a next group of swimmers wanting her to stay, and she is healthy enough to coach, she will be around. “I have wanted to make sure that this opportunity is available for young people in our community. I am very fortunate that my daughter, Amanda, has become a coach to keep my dream alive of providing this for young people in our area,” said Holicky.

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