The Nelson Reflections pose during a recent practice. L-R front row: Ashley Sonnichsen, Lauren Yanke, Brooke Sonnichsen. Second row: Charlize Alexander, Carley Pattyn-Fiander, Kaitlyn Fitchett, Lauren Strong, Amber Gurung. Third row: Jordyn Crawford, Sophie Packham, Cadence Hergott. Fourth row: Jessica Cockburn. Missing: Sophie Falk and Nicole Sonnichsen. Photo: Tyler Harper

Synchronized swim routines are ‘like a living creature’

The Nelson Reflections are back after a year-long hiatus.

Brooke Madore admits she isn’t much of a dancer.

When she was younger, Madore’s parents pushed her to take dance classes. But all she really wanted to do was jump in a pool, so they compromised.

“I liked swimming so I thought that synchro was a good thing to do because it had dance and choreography, but I was also in the water all the time, which I really, really enjoyed,” says Madore.

Madore competed with the Nelson Reflections synchronized swimming team for seven years under head coach Erin Fitchett. Now 23, Madore is the assistant head coach with the team as it rebuilds following a year-long hiatus during the Nelson and District Community Centre’s pool renovations.

The club is among Nelson’s oldest sports organizations. It began in 1994 and boasted 25-to-30 athletes per season prior to the pool’s 2015-16 closure. When they returned to the pool in October, the Reflections had dropped to 16 members.

But just one of those swimmers was a returning member, which Fitchett, Madore and assistant coach Michaela Martin took as a good sign.

That meant they’ve got a new generation of eager young swimmers, who the public can see perform June 10 at 6 p.m. when the Reflections hold their first show of the season at the NDCC.

Fitchett has been coaching the Reflections since their inception. She was swimming with the Calgary Aquabelles synchro team when she was invited to help Nelson start a program of its own. Her daughter Kaitlyn is part of this year’s team, while her youngest daughter Jessica is also a competitive swimmer.

She describes synchro as a deceptively difficult activity.

“It’s a hard sport but it’s masked, because you’re doing challenging things. But there’s music on and you’re moving, you’re creating, you’re expressing yourself through this way,” says Fitchett, who also trains other synchro coaches as a member of Synchro BC and the National Coaching Certification Program.

“Even as an ex-athlete and hopping back into the water, I sometimes think, ‘Wow, this is something that is very, very challenging and very hard.’ … Treading water, being up above water, being underwater, using all your muscles, your core strength, and you’re off the wall for an hour at a time. All of a sudden these are really strong athletes. Your mind tricks you because you’re doing so much fun stuff and the music is on and you’re moving and you’re being creative.”

A lot of that creativity comes from letting the swimmers be silly in the water. The coaches will turn on random pieces of music and watch what happens. Usually something useful comes about from goofing around.

“When they swim like nobody’s watching, they come up with really cool things,” says Fitchett. “But always we’re watching from the sidelines and we’re picking out things that we’ve never seen, the way their body moves. Then we adapt it to a way that everyone can do the same move. It’s common for us to say, ‘Put your arm out in front.’ They’ll do it a weird way and we’ll say, ‘Hey, that’s really cool.’”

It was from one of these improv sessions that the Reflections developed their signature move.

Fitchett was watching from the sidelines several years ago when she noticed the swimmers do a low wave and splash the water. Madore, who was one of the swimmers, remembers it coming about while they were messing around with land drills, which are routines practised on deck.

“It was just some goofy thing and it stuck,” says Madore.

The move has become a part of every Reflections routine since.

“All the kids have done it, always, in some routine. It’s just something that draws us all together,” says Fitchett.

“When we have alumni come back to a show and they see it, everybody feels so connected all the time. So it’s kind of a signature move, and I don’t really know any other clubs in our province or in Alberta who have a signature club move. That’s something we do and it really makes new athletes feel like they’re connected to older athletes.”

The Reflections are planning a return to competitions swimming in the fall. To do so, the coaching staff will begin work on choreographing routines in September in order to be ready for regional events in February.

Music selection is crucial. Audiences and judges don’t respond to slow pieces, according to Fitchett. But the music also needs to have personality and not just a steady beat.

The athletes, aged nine to 18, also help coaches pick a piece of music and a theme (a circus, for example). Fitchett says the music works best when it reflects the performers’ personalities.

“You can’t just choreograph it,” she says. “It kind of becomes a living creature that they’re all buying into and that they feel and that they love and then the expression comes out of that.”

That’s when the routine starts to take shape.

“The choreography, the nitpicking it, the breaking it apart,” says Fitchett.

“It’s a difference of your hand being here (Fitchett points up) to here (She moves her arm at a slight angle). That is a huge difference when two people put their arm up. … You’ve got to go through every single body position.”

The final piece is the team’s costumes. Bright colours are the rule, while blacks are avoided as are blues because they blend into the water.

Fitchett and Madore are excited to see what their new team looks like in the water when all the hard work is finished.

“They were fresh and new and had no idea what synchro was,” said Madore. “So it was really cool and it’s very, very impressive to see what they have done from their first day jumping in the pool to now. I’m really proud of all of them and it’s been a really fun year.”

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The team, which is mostly made up of new swimmers, practises twice a week at the NDCC. Photo: Tyler Harper

Many routines are practised on the deck before swimmers duplicate the moves in the pool. Photo: Tyler Harper

Head coach Erin Fitchett (left) has been with the Reflections since the club’s inception in 1994. Brooke Madore (right) started out swimming for the team before becoming an assistant head coach. Photo: Tyler Harper

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