Susan Comerford considers the last two weeks at Southwest Pool in Largo the ultimate inspiration.
That's because the synchronized swim team she coaches, Suncoast WaterWorks, and the city of Largo's aquatics division have been hosting the 2009 U. S. National Synchronized Swimming Team.
The elite group, made up of 12 women ranging in age from 18 to 22, represents the United States at international events throughout the year.
The visit, part of the national team's effort to expose more Americans to the sport, will culminate Saturday with a public performance at Southwest Pool during the citywide "Largo, It's Your Day to Play" program.
"Through coaching, I want to teach the swimmers to see how, if they want to be the best, they need to dedicate themselves,'' said Comerford, who has coached Suncoast WaterWorks for nine years. "In the last several days, our girls have been able to watch the U.S. team, and it's given them such motivation.''
Comerford, 31, heard of the opportunity to host the national team in early spring, when Gator Synchro, a group based in Gainesville, made its annual visit. The official invitation to the U.S. club was a joint effort by Comerford and Mark Abdo, Largo's aquatics director.
"Once I told Mark about the situation, he made it his business to get them here,'' Comerford said. "
While using the Largo pool as its home base, the national team traveled to Gainesville last Monday to perform an exhibition at the 2009 Esynchro Age Group Championships.
The team also used its visit to prepare for the FINA World Championships, which will be held in Rome later this month. On July 12, the team will fly from Tampa International Airport to Rome for the world competition.
From the look of the U.S. team's roster, hometowns range from Seattle to McKinney, Texas, to Mission Viejo, Calif.
Missing on the list? A Floridian.
"It's not that we don't have the talent here,'' Comerford said. "I think it has to do with the collegiate teams in other places. If USF or University of Florida had a varsity synchro team, then Florida girls would be able to win scholarships and stay in Florida.''
Could a future international synchro competitor lurks in the waters of Pinellas County?
"There are top-quality athletes here already,'' Abdo said. "And I think what having the national team at Southwest, along with holding events like 'Your Day to Play,' can do is create new dreams in some of our children. It creates the spark for the bigger dreams.''
IF YOU GO: In conjunction with National Recreation & Parks Month and the citywide program "Largo, It's Your Day to Play,'' the U.S. National Synchronized Swimming Team will make a public appearance Saturday at Southwest Pool, 13120 Vonn Road, Largo. The water show will begin at 10:30 a.m. with an autograph session to follow. For information, call (727) 518-3126.
5 Questions with Linda Witter, Head coach of the 2009 U.S. National Synchronized Swim Team
Linda Witter's resume is hefty. The cancer survivor is the head coach for both the 2009 U.S. National Synchronized Swim Team and the Ohio State University synchro team. She's founder of the Hamden Heronettes of Connecticut, a synchro team dating back 40 years. After serving as an assistant coach on the 2004 Olympic synchro team, Witter was diagnosed with cervical cancer during a routine exam. She chose to step away from her work. • However, she considers the battle a victory, and the hiatus was short-lived. Once the doctors gave her a thumbs-up, she went poolside again. "You're looking at a four-year cancer survivor," she said. "I'm all about encouraging people to get their scheduled checkups.'' • We caught up with Witter, 58, on Tuesday in between raindrops at Southwest Pool in Largo.
1 With a career going back 40 years, did you expect synchronized swimming to become an Olympic sport? No, this is all a dream, but it is truly a great sport. Archie Griffin (former Ohio State University football player and two-time Heisman Trophy recipient) has been quoted as saying that synchronized swimming is the most difficult and amazing sport he has ever seen. When you think of being little and at home, watching athletes enter the Olympic stadium … and then to be with the team entering the stadium, it was such an amazing moment for me.
2 When you and the selection committee chose the national team, what were the swimmers judged on? They're judged on a variety of skill, including how high they can bring their legs out of the water, their jumps, their power, strength and flexibility.
3 How long have most of the athletes been involved with the sport? To be at this level, I'd say most of their lives. The average is about 12 years.
4 What do you think of the Largo pool? It's a great facility, and what is ironic is that my mother moved here and lived with my uncle before she died in 2002. I'd visit and she'd come to the Southwest Pool to do water aerobics, so this pool has memories for me.
5 Do you hate it when reporters ask you if you watched Esther Williams movies when you young? No way. Esther Williams is what this sport is about. I did watch her as a girl. She is like the great game of our sport. She is amazing. But it is a lot more difficult than it was in her days.