A Year Abroad for Study & Synchro!

High school Junior Gates Bryan is one of approximately 1,100 American teenagers studying abroad this year with American Field Service(AFS-USA).  But Gates, a long-time member (since 5th grade!) of ANA Synchro, didn’t want to just study abroad, she wanted to swim synchro too!  So, with the help ANA Synchro Head Coach Leah Pinette, Gates found a host family in the south of France who was involved with synchronized swimming as well!
Gates, third from right, poses with her new French friends and teammates after a recent competition.
We checked in with Gates shortly after her French team’s first competition.  Read on to find out how she’s getting along with swimming synchro in France:
ANA Synchro:  What’s the name of your team?
Gates:  My team is Nautil Club Boucain.  Our colors are lime green and black, which is pretty nice. You look kind of intimidating when you wear it. <she
  It’s a big team – just under 100 people.  I don't really know everybody on the team because I don't practice with everybody at the same time.
ANA Synchro:  Does France have the same age groupings as we do in the US?  Are you a “16 – 19 Age Group” athlete over there?
Gates:  No. Here, they have Novice, they have “Espoirs,” which translates to “hope,” and they have Junior and Senior. I’m a Junior.  “Senior” functions as a masters team because Senior is for everyone above the age of 18. My coach, for example, is on the Senior team.  I would say Espoirs is in-between what we know as Intermediate and Age Group.  Here in France, you also have to pass tests to move up levels.  I had to pass the gold test to be able to swim as a Junior in France.  It really wasn't too hard, but I was still stressed about it because, if I didn’t pass, I wouldn't have been able to compete.
ANA Synchro:  Are you swimming a team routine?
Gates:  Yes I am. We have seven people on my team.  I'm not swimming a small routine, which is fine by me.  It's already enough work swimming my team routine because it's extremely strenuous.  It's an extremely fast-paced, non-stop routine, so, by the time it's finished I'm good with just having to swim my team routine and not a small routine as well.
ANA Synchro:  How often does your team practice?
Gates:  Three times a week, which is less than my team back home. We practice two hours on Monday, three hours on Thursday, and three hours on Saturday.  So that's a lot less.  I can see the effect that has on my endurance, which kind of stinks because my team routine is so much harder here!  It's a very, very strenuous routine, and I am completely dead by the end of it.  So I'm missing that endurance that I wish I had.  Last year, and the year before that, and as far back as I can remember at least in high school, I really ate, slept, and lived synchro.  And so now on Sunday, when I don't have practice and I don't have homework, I say to myself “Whoa! What am I supposed to do with all this time? I have to find a hobby!”
ANA Synchro:  What kind of music do synchro athletes in France like to use for routines?
Gates:  Mostly about the same as back home.  They do have themes to most of their routines. The music to my team routine this year reminds me of aliens and extraterrestrials.  It's really, really weird, but it's kind of awesome at the same time!  They'll sometimes use classical music, and they'll sometimes use music with lyrics.  What I find funny is that, if they’re using music with English lyrics, I’m not sure they always know what the lyrics mean. But it’s the same in the US.  We might use music that’s in Spanish or Russian, and we won't exactly know what the song is saying all the time either. Sometimes, I'll hear some English lyrics that are either explicit or racy, and I can just imagine the faces of the judges back home if they heard it played for a routine!
ANA Synchro sends its warmest regards to Nautil Club Boucain
ANA Synchro:  Are the figures the same as the US?
Gates:  Yes, they're all the same.  My coach will say “Aurora” and my team will say, “which one is that again?”  But Aurora is something I've been doing for a while, so I know what she’s talking about.
ANA Synchro:  What has been the hardest thing about joining a French Synchro team?
Gates:  Definitely the language barrier. My coaches don’t speak English, so all the instruction is in French!  It can be really confusing and annoying at times when they say something, and I'll have to say “What was that word again?  I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  And you don’t want your coach thinking that you're not working hard because you don't understand something…like when everybody says “yeah, let's go” and they all go underwater, and I'm just left there on top of the water looking like an idiot because I didn’t know what was going on!  I can get frustrated and mad with myself if I end up getting yelled at because I didn’t understand something.  Luckily, in synchro, the pool deck is really loud most of the time anyway, so my coach can tell me with hand signals whether I was arched or that I piked, for example.
ANA Synchro:  Are you fluent in French now?
Gates:  That's a tough question.  French fluency is not something that I can see myself ever achieving because there will always be something I can get better at.  There will always be more words to learn, more expressions, and more phrases. I can conjugate better.  And so I would say I'm very proficient. I can get by just fine.  However, there are definitely moments when I don't know words.
ANA Synchro:  Do you automatically count to 8 really fast in French now or do you still count in English?
Gates:  I do both. They’re exactly the same for me now.  My teammates find it really funny when I count in English.  When I'm all alone, I'm in the habit of counting in English, but if I'm counting with my team, we all count in French.
ANA Synchro:  Have you had a meet yet?
Gates:  Yes, we just had our first meet this weekend!  <big smile!> It was extremely nerve-wracking for me!  My first meet in France!  Definitely a marked point in my life!  We got first in team, which was so awesome for me. I was so excited to blow the competition out of the water.  We had a score of 65, and the next team down had a 63.  I know a lot of people would look at that and say “that's nothing,” but, to me, that was a really big deal!  I came in 15th in figures, which wasn't my best figures day.  But I did all-right.  I'm going to look to advance next time.
Land drilling is done differently in the US and France.
ANA Synchro:  Any other similarities or differences that you'd like to share?
Gates:  Yes. The way they land drill here is all in reverse compared to what we do in the US!  They land drill with their arms out in front of them, and it's really weird to me.  I really had to adjust the way I land drill.  Now, my teammates say I speak both land drilling languages!  Competitions are also much more relaxed, I think.  And it threw me off at first when the judges didn’t say “go” to start figures.  And my teammates find it so cute when I cheer in English because I don’t know how to cheer in French.  All they say is “Allez!” and I say “this is boring – I’m going to mix it up!  I’m going to cheer in English!”  They find that so funny!
ANA Synchro's 16-19 athletes with a message for Gates 🙂
ANA Synchro:  Any final thoughts?


Gates:  I really love it here.  I have an awesome team.  I have a good coach.  She's nice and she's funny, but she definitely scares me – in a good way.  We’re really working hard.  I’m mentally preparing myself to die in practice this week because we have to get down to business before our next meet. We have a two-week vacation coming up, and in the second week, we will have seven practices in a row.  That's going to be so rough!  I'm just really looking forward to the rest of this season.  We’ll have French Nationals in May.  And then we have a big show the 20th of June which my parents are going to be able to see, so I’m really excited!  They'll be able to see me swim in France!