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Pair of artistic swimmers take part in the Ontario Winter Games

Miralys Polski coaches Audrey Hodgson and Joy Szabo in synchro swim classes twice weekly. [Damon Maclean / The Observer]

Joy Szabo and Audrey Hodgson both placed in the Ontario Winter Games for artistic swimming on March 1.

Wellesley native Joy and Guelph friend Audrey practice twice a week for an hour and a half at a time in the pool at Elmira-based Waterloo Regional Artistic Swim Club. At the completion, Joy was first in the athletes with disabilities program (AWD) and Audrey finished fourth, picking up a pair of ribbons.

Both girls are coached by Miralys Polski.

“Synchronized swimming is a mixture of a bunch of other sports: swimming, dance, gymnastic, acrobatics and diving all combined,” explained Polski, who’s been coaching Joy since last year and Audrey only since this year. To make it to the Ontario Winter Games, the girls had to place in a previous qualifying meet.

At the OWG, the girls competed in their figures event on the Friday of the competition weekend and their solo event the following day. Figures, said Polski, are “an individual component of competition where the girls swim a series of movements, which we call a figure.

“The sport is great for these girls. They can’t do a whole lot because of their ability. So, the pool it really helps them strengthen their muscles and gives them confidence. It really helps them not just inside the pool, but outside of the pool.”

The girls’ mothers, Daisy Hodgson and Jolene MacDonald, have been able to witness growth in both of their daughters through their intro into synchro.

“I think it really gives them something to look forward to. With Audrey and her abilities, there’s not many sports she can participate in let alone compete in,” said Daisy Hodgson.

That sentiment was shared by MacDonald. “I think in our case, it’s very similar. With the girls’ conditions, they could play sports, but it’s really not safe.”

Although the girls are currently competing individually, having found such a safe and inclusive environment at the synchro club, has allowed for the girls to be part of a larger effort.

“The girls are a team,” said MacDonald. “They aren’t doing duets yet, that’s next. But the girls here at the club and the other teachers and staff, they try and make them included as much as possible.”

There was a similar sense of community and support at the OWG, she noted.

 “It didn’t matter that they were competitors. These kids are phenomenal, whether they have cognitive disabilities or physical disabilities. Everyone cheers each other on and then being able to go back to school and say, ‘I did this, win or lose it doesn’t matter.’”

Both MacDonald and Hodgson encourage any parents who believe such activities may benefit their child to take a chance with artistic swimming. Before starting synchro, MacDonald’s daughter Joy struggled to walk across the road. Since beginning to participate in the program, Joy’s muscles have strengthened significantly. For Hodgson’s daughter Audrey, she was discouraged from swimming without her life jacket after private lessons. Since the first day at synchro, Audrey has been able to take that leap and swim without her life jacket.

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