SUN CITY CENTER
Backstage, they formed a tight-knit circle and locked hands. From the youngest at 54 to the oldest at 82, they wished one another good luck in the water.
They had been practicing for months. Now, it was time to share their synchronized swimming skills with the sold-out crowd wrapped around the deck of the indoor pool.
But first, Rosemary Riley said a prayer. She ended it with this: "Hope to God he blesses us with a good show!"
The women laughed.
Swimming is not an easy sport. It takes energy to stay afloat and master skills such as freestyle and backstroke. Adding choreography and music to the mix makes it even tougher to look good in the water.
But the Sun City Center Swim Dancers know how to make synchronized swimming look beautiful and easy. They've been putting on shows since forming in 1985.
The youngest member, Mary Bergquist, is impressed with the passion and energy the women have for the sport. They practiced relentlessly to prepare for the annual show.
"All I can say is, I hope when I'm 82 I can still do this," she said.
Bergquist, whom everyone calls "coach," said they devote hours and hours of work to make each move look effortless.
"It looks easy because it's supposed to look easy, but it's really not," she said.
Lorraine Lowell is the oldest of the show's 15 members. She had one year of synchronized swimming under her belt, but that was back in college.
She had only been swimming for fun when she heard about the swim dancers in the early '90s.
She passed the tryout, swimming the length of the pool several times and showing her mastery of several swim strokes.
"They teach you everything else," she said.
Lowell feels like a mermaid in the water. She can do anything. During the show, she keeps her arm and leg movements in synch with the team. She floats, flips, dips and forms intricate circles and squares with the other members.
On land, she isn't as sturdy. It was her last big show with the team, which she joined about 20 years ago.
"I'm sorry to go," Lowell said. "I have disabilities that are slowing me down."
But Lowell isn't likely to slow down to a rocking chair. She has her eye on something else: the water aerobics club.
"I can't sit," she said, laughing.
All eyes are on the women for what they do in the water, and they like to do it with style.
They have costumes for each number and wear matching nail polish and makeup. They have learned that lipstick is the best thing to keep their cheeks rosy red because it doesn't wash off in the water.
The women dubbed this year's show "On the Road Again" and performed 11 numbers.
The number "Kansas City" earned them plenty of applause and laughter. Looking like biker chicks, they hit the water in Harley-Davidson T-shirts and black sunglasses.
In another piece, Ginny Williams and Susan Muise showed their athletic prowess by starting their number "Moon Over Miami" with dazzling dives into the water.
Williams said she loves the pool. She has tried other sports, such as golf, but has always returned to the water.
"I am more at home in the water than anywhere else," she said. "I'm good at swimming. You stick with what you're good at."
Barbara D'Entremont said the group members have become good friends. That is why they stick around for so many years.
"I think we think of the group as a sisterhood," she said.
The group presented retiring members Lowell and Carolyn Pate with flowers. Pate did not swim in the show, but she did choreograph the "St. Louis Blues" number.
D'Entremont said today's seniors are active. They do not retire to sit by the TV. They're out swimming, golfing, biking. This group of seniors is out to enjoy the golden years.
Retirement communities such as Sun City Center are a good place to find a fulfilling hobby, D'Entremont said.
"It's very hard to not get involved," she said.