McKinney Mermaids

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Seniors Excel at Synchronized Swimming

By Debra Goldie Jones

Wanda feels like a teenager standing on her hands doing a walkover in the pool with her friends. She’s 81. While watching a performance of the McKinney Mermaids, she decided, “I want to learn to do that!

You don’t have to be able to do handstands or even know how to swim to join the group. Most moves are on top of the shallow water, and they’ll teach you everything you need to know.

To say that water has rejuvenating powers is not too far off: a quick look at each Mermaid reveals supple skin, fit figure and legs to leave us all a little envious.

Jump Right In

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I showed up to observe a synchronized swim team made up of about a dozen women aged 56 to 81. I put on a swimsuit, borrowed nose plugs, cap and goggles and dove into the research.

Rosita Ray Hoyes, the team’s leader, welcomed me in a warm, lilting German accent. Her first order of business was to get me “sculling,” hands close to hips rapidly moving flipper-like while floating on my back. This is the key to maneuvering and gracefully staying afloat. Before I knew it, I was doing backstrokes, rollovers, even passing another lady over me while submerged. The only thing I didn’t attempt was the Eiffel Tower, where legs jut up suddenly in unison like you see in the Olympics.

Different Strokes

In 2003, a Danish woman named Laila Swendsen was teaching water aerobics at the McKinney Senior Recreation Center. When her students learned she’d once taught synchronized swimming and performed with Esther Williams, they playfully demanded lessons. By the time Swendsen retired in 2013, her synchronized swim class was firmly established.

Rosita was the logical student to take over. She loved the sport. As a child her parents took her to Munich where she witnessed synchronized swimmers practicing for the Olympic trials. From an early age she was a water rat. She loved the performances the Mermaids had started giving at the senior center and had already been choreographing the numbers by “swimming” across her living room while counting to the music.

The Mermaids get on swimmingly. Practicing twice a week and performing several times a year has made the team more like a family, drawing support from each other through cancer, a house fire and other challenges.

I returned a second time not to swim but to watch. The ladies performed several routines complete with costumes. In one, Rosita wears a swim cap with rubber bull’s horns she has constructed for the Toreador Song from Carmen. As the music begins, the ladies scull smoothly as one unit forming patterns that open, close, converge and merge. Diving, rising, lifting, lowering, giving each member a sense of teamwork, purpose, passion…

and the chance to feel like a teenager all over again.

For class or show information contact Rosita at 469-396-9074.

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