My name is Saloni and I am a synchronized swimmer from Florida in the United States. I fell in love with synchro nearly fourteen years ago when my local YMCA began offering synchronized swimming through a summer camp. I was an avid swimmer and loved dance as well, but even at eight years old, I knew this sport was something special for me. I joined the classes offered shortly after the summer camp and became the first swimmer on the team as it slowly became a competitive team at the local, state, and then national level. I swam for my club team, formerly Tampa YMCA Synchro and now Florida Elite Synchro Warriors, for nearly 12 years and made some of the best memories of my childhood.
One of my favorite memories as a young club swimmer was sitting down on the pool deck with my legs crossed in front of my coach, now friend, as she applied make-up on my face right before a competition. She not only taught me how to apply make-up, as is any young girl’s dream but consistently encouraged and supported me to help build my self-confidence, something I’ve always struggled with. She showed me the importance of believing in myself, despite setbacks, and always stressed the importance of having fun while I was swimming. I do admit, I didn’t always believe her, but looking back I could not be more grateful to her for helping shape me into the person I am today. I now try my best to mentor and support young swimmers in their goals while coaching them in the same way she mentored me. Two of these younger swimmers have become like family to me and swim for Team USA!
By the end of high school, I knew I had to continue on in college. I swam for four years at the University of Florida and befriended a few of my dearest friends in the world. Collegiate swimming further shaped me into the person I am today, especially under the strong and caring mentorship of my coach. As I came from a very small team and did not have a team to swim with my last two years of high school, I was the swimmer who had the least experience with very competitive Team routines when I joined. The closest I had my last two years was joining a Team Florida Combo with another team, an experience I am forever grateful for and encourage all teams and athletes to partake in. Through my ups and downs in the sport, I’ve learned that it’s important not to focus on what I feel I’ve failed at, but instead on the experience with my team, the effort I’ve put in, and all the lessons I have the opportunity to grow from. Due to my head injury my third collegiate season, I was Alternate until my health improved but strove to do my best in recovery. When I returned, I put in extra effort to compete and overcame obstacles to persevere at Nationals.
As I graduate college during the midst of a pandemic, after having my senior year Collegiate National competition cancelled, I have a greater appreciation for the lifelong friendships I’ve made through synchro and the dedication and commitment to my dreams and to those relying on me. I know that no matter where life takes me in the future, I will continue to be involved in this sport that has given me so much.
I have begun working with USA Artistic Swimming to help increase diversity within our sport, which I believe applies to a global scale as well. It is no secret that synchronized/artistic swimming, and aquatics sports as a whole is largely white-dominated and lacks diversity. People of color within synchronized/artistic swimming are few and far between, especially Black synchronized swimmers and coaches. For as much as our sport loves to use music, suits, and overall themes of various POC cultures, these cultures are rarely represented or valued in our sport.
When we look at discrimination and disparities, it is equally important to recognize the impact they have on young children and developing young adults, which is also the age range of most athletes. It is very easy to look at injustice and inequality and say that they only exist outside of our daily lives, but it is time for the Artistic Swimming community as a whole to recognize that this notion is false and our community members are highly impacted, which further contributes to a lack of diversity within our sport. Racism/colorism, particularly anti-blackness pervade within our sport, and we must dismantle these notions through active effort. Anti-blackness pervades in ways that we may not even realize: from appropriating Black culture in routines, to colorism in judging, to not having gel/hair provisions for Black hair, to microaggressions from athletes and coaches and families, to incorrectly color matching "nude" suits to Black girls, and many other ways. We must challenge our discomfort when it comes to speaking about race and come together in the spirit of sport.
Additionally, there is a lack of inclusion and stigma that surrounds LGBTQ athletes in our sport. The discrimination and prejudice that LGBTQ athletes, especially Black and POC LGBTQ athletes, face from teammates, coaches, and families are also incredibly traumatizing to athletes and contribute to stressors that have lifelong consequences on an individual's wellbeing.
We must bring active effort to dismantle these notions so that individuals of all races/ethnicities, genders, and sexualities feel not only welcomed but valued and respected within Artistic Swimming.
August 2020 Artsy Ambassador