This 7-year-old trailblazer is the first boy to compete in synchronized swimming in Ontario
Chris Niehaus is racking up medals and challenging gender stereotypes
With his head underwater and legs to the sky, seven-year-old Chris Neihaus is winning medals and breaking barriers in the pool.
Not only is he the first boy on the Etobicoke Olympium swimming club's synchronized swimming team — he's the first boy to compete in the sport in the entire province.
Despite that, "it feels completely like I fit right in," he told Matt Galloway on CBC Radio's Metro Morning.
His father, Jeff Niehaus, agrees.
"[For] the girls on his team, it's a non-issue, he's just another part of the team. [As for] Parents, I'll be in the stands watching, and it's not 'why is there a boy there' it's 'this is great, there's a boy there!'" he said.
Chris got into the sport the way many kids get into things: watching an older sibling, in this case, his older sister Sophie, herself a competitive synchronized swimmer.
"She could go upside down and do cool things with her legs," he said "I thought that it would be fun."
Though his father was a bit apprehensive at first about whether Chris would be accepted, he said that his son was received "fantastically well."
Since then, he's racked up medals and grown his skills, even beating out his entire age category to come first in a "figures" competition - a competition in which the swimmer moves through a series of positions individually, without music.
"It was amazing. I'm a proud father normally but that was a really proud day," said Jeff Niehaus.
He describes synchronized swimming as "in transition" towards being more accommodating of men and boys, citing as an example a 2015 move by FINA — the international body that oversees synchronized swimming — to allow mixed-gender duets at a competition in Russia.
The Olympics, however, remain closed to male swimmers.
As for Chris, he isn't really thinking about it, saying only that when it comes an Olympic run of his own one day that "if my sister doesn't I don't think I can."
Father and son are strongly encouraging any boys interested in giving the sport a go, with Jeff pointing out that his son's club, the Olympium in Etobicoke, runs summer camps as a way for kids to dip their toes.
"For kids that might not like the lap swimming, this might be a great opportunity to still be in the water and still have fun," he said.
"It's fun to do... you should try it!" concluded Chris.