The Waterloo Regional Synchronized Swimming Club has a new coach, but the organization didn’t pick just anybody.

Two-time Chinese Olympian Jin Na.

A two-time Olympian Jin Na, or “Jinna” as she prefers to be called by colleagues, was one of China’s top swimmers and coaches before she received a three-year work visa to teach at the former Elmira pool location purchased by the club last September.

The former Olympian has wanted to work in Canada for a long time and utilized her reputation as well as an old connection in Canada to apply for the job. Na’s friend and former swimming partner Ying Li Hou is a national coach at Granite Club Synchro in Toronto. Na and Li Hou swam in a duet at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in Australia. Li Hou was the first to approach Waterloo Regional Synchro to offer Na’s services last year and the club was eager to except.

“She has a wealth of experience” said fellow coach Leanne McDonnell. “We were hoping to have her last year but it took about a year [to get her a visa].”

Na represented China in 1996 at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, USA and again in Sydney four years later. She now joins a staff of Waterloo Region coaches teaching swimmers between the ages of five and 18 and enjoys the convenience of a coveted Elmira location which allows students unlimited use the pool, a luxury many other synchro clubs cannot afford.

Though no one at Waterloo Regional Synchro denies Na’s superb qualifications and experience, the hardest part of her job so far is learning a new language. Na’s grasp of the English language is still very basic at best, but as she has only been in Canada a few weeks, fellow coaches are eager to help the new recruit and McDonnell is optimistic.

“The swimmers understand her quite well. Because of her presence, they really listen to everything she has to say. English is a challenge but she’s really picking it up quickly,” she said.

New coach Jin Na works with some young swimmers at the Waterloo Regional Synchronized Swimming Club’s pool in Elmira. [colin dewar / the observer]
Na is very calm around her new students, preferring a quiet, gentle approach to teaching, McDonnell explained:

“She’s very positive and she’s very knowledgeable. She loves children, you can see that. The students right now are basically in awe of her with her experience.”

The swimmers are not the only ones excited about being taught by an Olympian. The coaches are watching her closely as well and hoping to increase their skills through Na’s experience while she moves around the camp advising them on coaching techniques.

Waterloo Synchro is already ranked among the top clubs in the province and the former Olympian hopes to take the club’s long standing reputation further. During the span of her three-year contract Na wants place her students on podiums at the Canadian Nationals and hopes to some day stay in Canada permanently so she can continue teaching.

Along with a long standing reputation as one of China’s top swimmers, Na completed an undergraduate sports training program and recently received a masters in the same discipline (similar to kinesiology) at the Nanjing Institute of Physical Education, a school renowned for its academics in China.

With ambitious dreams for the club’s future, Na has only a short time to get used to her new surroundings. Currently she is part of a Summer Skills and Drills program in Elmira, gearing up for a high-performance camp at the end of the month that prepares students for the commencement of the season in September.

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Elena Maystruk
Elena Maystruk was a journalist at the Woolwich Observer where she covered news, business, sports and human interest beats. She has previously worked with university and independent publications in Toronto, covering everything from the city music scene to the local branch of the Occupy movement. She is a long-time community enthusiast and volunteer in Waterloo Region and part of the 2012 Media Studies graduating class at Guelph-Humber University. Maystruk is currently a staff writer for the Strathroy Age Dispatch.