By Brendan Shykora
Ottawa’s newest synchronized swimming club made waves at this year’s Espoir Canadian Championships, taking the bronze medal in the 13 to 15-year-old division.
GO Capital Synchro improved on last year’s seventh place finish, finding the podium in only its second season.
The championships took place in Surrey, BC from May 30 to June 2, at the same time and in the same pools as the seventh leg of the 2018 FINA Artistic Swimming World Series.
For the young girls who hope to one day compete internationally, sharing the stage with some of the world’s biggest synchro stars was a chance to see the top-level skills they aspire towards.
Among those young and aspiring swimmers is GO Capital’s Meaghan Lapierre, who first competed at provincial championships when she was seven years old. Now at 14, she’s focused on reaching the highest level of synchronized swimming.
“I train about 26 hours a week,” said Lapierre. “I love being in the water.”
That’s been true for about as long as she’s been able to walk. Lapierre’s mother, Nancy Vaillancourt, says her daughter could “do a front crawl and back crawl at three years old.”
Before long it became clear that Lapierre had an affinity for synchro. “You could only ever see her toes out of the water,” said Vaillancourt. “She was always somewhere at the bottom of the pool.”
2016 was a banner year for Lapierre, who won gold as a soloist at the Pan Am Games in Puerto Rico and the Espoir championships in Winnipeg. That year she was recognized by the Ottawa Sports Awards as the city’s top athlete in the sport of synchronized swimming.
Lapierre brings an acrobatic skillset to the GO Capital team. Playing the role of ‘flyer,’ she’s capable of performing triple backspins and two and a half side-spins, with technique that’s well beyond her years.
GO Capital found success in Surrey on the back of a strong routine performance, with a score that ranked behind only the gold-winning Waterloo Regional Synchro team. Athletes Kailey Lapointe, Anastasia Bell, Maya Bell, Noemi Guindon Riopel, Anna Tait, Gillian McIlwaine, Sascha Motz and Meghan Vrkoc rounded out a roster that came together when it needed to.
“The girls really worked as a team to pull off those performances,” said Genevieve Beauregard-Ross, the lead coach of GO Capital who has 18 years of coaching experience.
She said the team impressed the judges with their highlights—the pivotal moments in a synchro event when flyers are lifted out of the water to show off their spins. “Our team is known for having the most spectacular highlights in the competition and they were all very well performed.”
Anastasia and Maya Bell were both competing in the national team event for the first time. The 15-year-old twin sisters anchor the team’s base and help propel Lapierre through the air.
“I’m quite excited about how much we’ve improved this year,” said Maya Bell. “It’s good to see your hard work turn into something that you’ve been striving for.”
The pair also competed in the 13-15 duet competitions, in which they finished fifth.
“The beauty of our duet is that we never stop practicing because we’re always together,” said Anastasia Bell. As it happens, the pair won’t be taking a break from practicing just yet: they planned to go to Toronto for the provincial junior team tryouts the weekend after the Espoir championships.
As for Lapierre, she’ll be one of 16 girls in the country to compete for the final 10 spots on the national team that’s heading to the 2019 Canada Winter Games, and If she gets that far she doesn’t plan on stopping: “my dream was to go to the Olympics ever since I started this sport.”
If not as a synchronized swimmer, Vaillancourt says her daughter could find her way to the Olympics on a trampoline, which she began practicing on to work on her highlights in the pool.
Whether swimming or trampolining, Lapierre is not short on self-confidence. “You’ll definitely be seeing my name again,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not going to go away.”