Students Start Synchro Program At Yale

Dec. 04, 2017, 4:13 p.m. (ET)
 Grace Chen and Ayeza Bajwa have started a synchro club team at Yale University.


Two West Coast synchronized swimmers are bringing their passion for the sport to Yale University.


Grace Chen, 18, and Ayeza Bajwa, 20, are in the early stages of starting a collegiate synchro program at the famed Ivy League school. Both students have been involved in the sport for about a decade; Chen is a product of Seattle Synchro, and Bajwa swam for MAC Synchro in Portland, Ore.


Bajwa and Jasmine Stone, another current sophomore who used to swim for the Austin (Texas) Angelfish, talked last year about forming a synchro club, and they reached out to the club sports office for more information. Life got pretty busy for both for a while, but when Chen arrived in the fall and expressed intereste in creating the club, she and Bajwa got things rolling.


“Synchro has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember, so when I began applying to colleges last fall I looked on the USA Synchro website for the list of current collegiate programs,” Chen said. “Jasmine’s email was listed under Yale as a potential start-up program, so I reached out to her and was excited to learn there were synchro swimmers already on campus interested in starting a club.


“I reached out again in April after I found out I was accepted, and Ayeza and I really began working on the club when school started in August. Jasmine is pretty heavily involved in several other things now, especially water polo, but has been a great help whenever she can."


In order to get approved, they had to write a proposal to Yale’s director of club sports outlining their goals, potential roster, budgetary needs, and possibilities for competition in the area.


“After reaching out to all the other collegiate programs nearby and a long back and forth with club sports, we were officially approved as a club sport in late October,” Chen said. “Our next step was to get registered with USA Synchro, which happened around mid-November. Moving forward, we’re now working on finalizing our coaching situation and getting all our waivers and forms into the club sports office."


There are five women who will be part of the program this year, and a few others have expressed interest. “As a club sport we can’t recruit applicants, but we do hope that having a club synchro program here will encourage more synchro swimmers to apply and contact us to learn more,” Bajwa said.


The swimmers have hit a few speed bumps along the way. Yale was at its limit of 50 club sports, so they weren’t sure if they would be approved. There are also many other aquatic club and varsity sports, so they were limited to just two hours a week in the pool this year.


“Yale has generously offered us some start-up money to cover lifeguarding and other basic costs for our first season, but our budget will definitely be tight. Yale officials are completely on board,” Bajwa said. “I think our main hurdles to competition this season are that 1) it’s already pretty late in the season and we have to start from scratch in terms of routines and 2) we have limited funding to spend on traveling. I think it will be more reasonable for us to start competing next season with the other club teams in the area."


Said Chen: “Another significant speed bump we’re anticipating for once things get started is learning about how collegiate competition works. Collegiate synchro is structured very differently from what we’ve done in age-group and junior competition, so it’ll be a huge learning experience for us in terms of figuring out what kinds of routines and technical elements we will need to prepare for competition."


The USA Synchro community has been helpful in the duo’s quest. They are especially grateful to Elizabeth Gerdin, the head coach at the University of the Incarnate Word, and other collegiate coaches in the area, who have provided tips and resources to start the club.


“The competitive collegiate clubs nearby – Wheaton, Boston, UPenn, and Penn State – sent us letters inviting Yale Synchro to their regional competitions. We passed these on to club sports to demonstrate that local competition was accessible, which was instrumental in getting our program approved” Bajwa said. “After that, Elizabeth Gerdin sat with us for an hour over the phone walking us through registration with USA Synchro and the basics of collegiate synchro. Everybody we’ve reached out to in the synchro community has been so willing to offer whatever assistance that they can. Especially as part of a growing sport, they’ve all been so dedicated to growing the collegiate side of synchro, and we definitely wouldn’t be at this point today without all the support we’ve received from the synchro community."


In the short term, Chen and Bajwa hope to grow the program and to be able to compete in regional collegiate competitions. Eventually, they hope to establish Yale as a magnet for synchro swimmers around the U.S.


“Ideally, we would also be able to have more pool time as the club grows. It is an official club sport and we hope to continue it for years after our graduation,” Bajwa said.” I think it would be difficult for synchro to become a varsity sport during our time here, mainly because we would need to demonstrate that there are a large number of applicants who could be recruited and synchro itself is still a growing sport in the U.S. Eventually becoming a varsity sport would definitely be an amazing reach goal to achieve in the future.”