Claudia Holzner, featured in the documentary Perfect, got hooked on synchronized swimming at the age of eight while watching the 2000 Olympics Games in Sydney. 11 years later — In the 2011 Canadian Open Championships — she won gold in all five events (solo, duet, team, combo and figures). Holzner joined Canada's senior national team in 2013. What does a typical day look like for one of Canada's synchro champs? In her own words, here's how it unfolds.
It’s 5:30 a.m. Awake, puffy eyed and dazed, I get ready for a 7 a.m. start. The summer sun is rising, just peaking through my window as if to say, "Hello, get up, start the day!" I move. My back, neck and feet crack, giving me a sense of relief. Quiet and half asleep, not wanting to turn on the lights, I look for some easy workout clothes.… Oh wait! That’s everything I own!
"Perfection, in my opinion, is something that is just out of reach. It is pure and untainted. Why be perfect when you can work towards perfection. Life would be very boring if everything was always in reach."
Twenty minutes left before departure to the pool, I start breakfast. I like to eat a small bowl plain yogurt, filled with frozen berries, oats, sliced almonds and a little bit of honey to taste. This gives me a little bit of everything I need to start the day! As with every other high level athlete, we try to eat as clean as possible to keep our bodies fueled and healthy.
We start working at 7:00 a.m. and some days don’t end until five or six at night. We start our days in the gym with a 2-3 hour workout. This "land based" training is extremely important. Our life in the water depends on how strong our core is, how much endurance we have to push through our routines when we are reaching the end, how strong we have to be to lift girls 5 feet out of the water and most importantly, how our bodies stay injury free.
This training not only consists of lifting weights and doing cardio workouts, but also core training, flexibility and land drills of our routines. Land drills are when we work through our routines on land before taking them into the water. It’s a way of understanding where we need to be each moment so that when we do swim it, there’s less chance someone will get hurt.
By mid morning we’ve completed 700 abs exercises, lifted 10 times our body weight and sweat more than anyone should. Seriously, the other day after doing burpees, there was a puddle of sweat in the shape of my body on the floor.
Speed swimming is up next. Each day the plan changes, but today is hypoxic training. We swim long distances, changing how long we have to hold our breath and how many times we get to breathe per lap. It’s a tough program, but also necessary as we need to warm up our lungs to swim our routines. As you may have seen, synchronized swimming involves holding your breath…a lot!
"Most of us can hold our breath for a good three-to-four minutes, but while swimming a routine the longest you will see us underwater is 30 seconds. Why? Because during the underwater portions of our routines we’re exerting ourselves by moving our legs above water while holding ourselves up with our arms or pushing a teammate out of the water so that she can do two back flips. This takes up a lot of energy and oxygen!"
The best part is practicing our three routines. The Tech Routine has five predetermined elements that every team must complete in the same order. The choreography between the elements is left up to the teams. The entire routine must be completely synchronized — eight girls doing the exact same thing for three minutes. It’s the first routine we perform and also the most stressful because one small mistake could cause a large point penalty.
In the Free Routine we’re completely free to do what we want. Of course, we choreograph our routines to work with the judges' eyes and attempt to make a routine with high difficulty and artistic values, but for the most part, it’s four minutes of freedom!
The last is the "combo" which has a solo, duet and the team all in one. It’s the longest routine but also the most fun. We get to incorporate every aspect of synchro into one five-minute routine that will — hopefully — wow the audience!
We only get one chance to show the judges what we’ve got so training starts months in advance! If we make a mistake, the music stops. If we are different in any way, whether in timing, height, leg extension, toe point, or energy of our movements, the music stops. That’s how we work towards perfection.
We’ll spend three hours running our routines over and over again just to make the first 15 seconds "perfect," going through each movement 100 times before we move on to the next. It’s not easy. You have to be patient, determined and willing to push your body and your mind to a whole new place.
Each day is a new challenge and each day we achieve something that we didn't have the day before.
At the end of the day, after doing my round of hot and cold baths, I feel drained. Although I am only 22 years old, my joints feel old and my body aches. There are days when you go home exhausted and starving and although you still have daily chores and activities, all you want to do is sink into your comfy bed.
Though some of the workouts we do on a daily basis make me clench my teeth, I am so grateful and proud to have done them. Some days are harder than others, but in the end the only reason we endure them is the drive to achieve perfection.
Our job is to make you think it’s easy, while everything below the water moves at hyper speed. We want to surprise, thrill, and inspire Canada to believe in this beautifully gruelling sport. We are women of power and strength mixed with an element of beauty. In the end, we have trained each routine hundreds, even thousands, of times through, for that one amazing swim.