My name is Philicia and this is my synchro story!
Have you ever been a part of something different that made a change? Or a splash! Let me tell you about my life as a swimmer of color in the world of artistic swimming! I began my official swimming career at the age of six as an age group speed swimmer with a program within the Los Angeles Park and Recreational department. Though I had learned to swim at the age of three I was too young to participate in swim meets – at that time the minimum age to compete was six. It wasn’t long before I started to participate in age group swimming and achieved ranked times at the local and state levels. The swim program that I was a part of was in a community that was predominately African American, so the majority of the swimmers, if not all, were black. Our team had won several local championships and when we joined USSA swimming, many of our swimmers qualified for state and national meets. It was during this time as a speed swimmer, I was introduced to synchronized swimming.
The recreational department was starting a local team and was looking for girls and boys who could swim. Knowing very little about synchronized swimming at that time, my mother asked me and my sister if would we be interested in taking a few lessons (something to give us a break from speed swimming, which we had been doing for over five years at the time). Naturally, we agreed. And the rest was history – we were hooked!
Though we continued to compete in speed swimming, splitting our time between the two sports was challenging to say the least. Our program started out as an age group swim team (which we won several local championships) and we transitioned to a USS synchro program and started to compete statewide. From that small community pool sprung the formation of the Synchro Swans- an all African American synchronized swimming team. We were quite a novelty during the time we competed - at least that was what the headlines in local newspapers and TV shows said at the time. We were often labeled as the ‘first African American synchronized swimming team in the US’ - though we did not intend it to be that way, it just happened to be that way. But who we were during that time together was so much more!
Yes, we were different - instead of wearing our hair in the usual gelled back style, we broke tradition and wore cornrows and braids (which are seen even today in international and Olympic competition). Our music was different, fashioned after African beats, salsa and soulful renditions of 90s music. Our style of swimwear was flashy - often patterned from African prints with matching head wraps. We competed without fear and only wanted to be the best and most of all entertain.
Today the sport is still underrepresented with minorities and especially people of color. Being a Swan years ago I am not sure if I thought about being the only African American performing at meets. I just wanted to do my best and swimming was such a big part of my life, and it took a lot of hard work to compete at my highest level. So when I’m asked how we can include more minorities in the sport, I just respond and say: “Opportunity”! We had a dedicated parent group, a city program involved with bringing programs to communities, and most of all the heart to make it our own. The Swans never intended to be different – we just wanted to push beyond our comfort zones, be challenged, and take advantage of the opportunity to embrace a new experience.
So, my advice is to be open to change and if that means reaching out to communities of color to provide opportunities to learn artistic swimming, then do that! Get involved and make a difference to bring this wonderful sport to anyone regardless of color. Presently, I am on a master’s synchronized swimming team and an entertainment team. When the pools reopen, I want to volunteer in my community to bring artistic swimming to young children.
So that’s my synchro story and when you put it all together you will see ME – yes I am “different” compared to the majority you see in the sport today, but being “different” made a change not only in my life but also in the sport I love.
When I am not synchronized swimming, I am a working actor and have been my entire life. I am currently writing and producing a one-woman show where there are elements of synchronized swimming in it - very exciting!
October 2020 Artsy Ambassador