Lowe has lofty goals for synchronized swimming teamBy Mark Soltau, Bud Anderson January 11, 2013, 12:42 am
When Dallas native Sara Lowe assumed head coaching duties last fall for the Stanford synchronized swimming team, she already knew her way around.
As a scholar-athlete, Lowe helped the program capture four U.S. Collegiate National Championships and was a three-time All-American. After graduating with a B.A. in Communication in 2008, she was appointed a Matteson Fellow in 2009, and worked in the athletic department with the DAPER Investment Fund. Lowe also made time to help out her former head coach Heather Olson during Olson’s maternity leave, and was named a full-time assistant coach in 2010.
“A lot of the classes my players are taking are classes I took or my teammates took,” said Lowe. “That’s a huge advantage working with the professors. Just kind of knowing what they’re going through and the loads they’re taking. That really helps us when we’re trying to organize our practices.”
Lowe and her family moved to the Bay Area when she was 15. She trained and competed for the Santa Clara Aquamaids for three years, and from 2000 to 2005 was a U.S. synchronized swimming All-American and four-time member of the U.S. National Team. Lowe competed for the gold-medal winning 2003 Pan American Team, and made the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team, where she was an alternate for duet.
Two weeks after the Olympics, she started classes at Stanford.
“One of the biggest challenges for me—when I came out of high school, I deferred for two years—was that we would train 10 hours a day,” she said. “That was my full-time job.”
“So then coming to Stanford, all of a sudden you’re expected to be the same-level athlete, but you’re training three or four hours a day. That was a huge struggle for me. I had to learn that there are different ways of being creative with your practice, being a little bit more efficient. You can still get things done and improve your skills. Heather and I often butted heads about it, but I bought into the system.”
Olson, also a former scholar-athlete at Stanford and a two-time Olympian, knew exactly what she was going through.
“I had the same kind of background as Sara,” said Olson, who coached the Cardinal for 10 years. “More time, better results. I always wanted a few more hours, but you find creative ways to do the most you can with the time given. There was very little chit-chat time. I just felt so lucky to have someone on the team who wanted to do and give more. That was really infectious with the rest of the team in the best possible way.”
Lowe learned a lot from Olson, especially how to keep her cool during competitions.
“She always managed to stay really calm,” said Lowe. “I never could figure out how she could stay so calm when I would get incredibly nervous, because as a coach, you can’t do anything about it. So that’s something I have really tried to work on.”
Not that she doesn’t have her moments.
“The athletes are very outspoken and told me the other day that they thought I was getting more patient,” she smiled. “I get nervous watching a football game, too.”
Olson said Lowe’s biggest strengths are her youth, experience, and ability to communicate with players.
“Balancing the rigors of Stanford academics and athletics is a big advantage to her coaching these athletes,” she said. “They’re going to buy into her because they’ve seen her successful in this model.”
Early on, Lowe expressed an interest to Olson about coaching at Stanford.
“I was excited about that,” Olson said. “She was team captain three out of her four years. It’s not very often that you see a sophomore taking on the role of team captain, but with her Olympic experience and go-getter mentality, it was a perfect fit.”
For those unfamiliar with the sport, synchronized swimming is much tougher than it might appear. Lowe has invited many elite athletes and triathletes to come swim with her team, including former Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart. Most have had trouble keeping their heads above water and left with a newfound respect for the sport.
“We kind of liken it to running a track race while holding your breath and smiling, and then performing a whole ballet routine at the same time,” said Lowe. “You have all of these things going on that are just not natural things that would go together. I tell my kids all the time, ‘We have to get you comfortable with being uncomfortable.’ It’s definitely not easy.”
Lowe said there is one major misconception about her sport.
“I don’t think people understand that we never touch the bottom of the pool,” she said. “They don’t understand how long we’re under water. They’ll say it’s like 20 seconds or something. Actually, out of a three-and-a-half-minute routine, it’s probably two minutes easily.”
Of Lowe’s 14 swimmers, 8 are upperclassman and 5 trained with the U.S. National Team last year, headed by senior Olympian Mariya Koroleva. Stanford starts its 2013 season January 25-26 at Lindenwood University, and will also compete against the University of the Incarnate Word. All three are strong contenders for the national title, along with perennial powerhouse Ohio State.
Lowe is especially excited that Stanford will host the Western Regionals on March 2 and the U.S. Collegiate Championships on March 20–23. The Cardinal, who will seek its seventh national title, last hosted the Collegiate National Championships in 2010, when it finished second.
“We have a really great shot at winning this year,” said Lowe, who encourages Stanford fans to experience the sport of synchronized swimming. “Some of these girls came close two years ago, then left for the national team. These athletes have a huge, huge motivation to win this year. Not only are they at home, but this is the first year synchronized swimming is going to be in the World University Games. The team that wins the Collegiate National Championships team event will be the base of the team that is selected to go to World University Games. We’re looking above and beyond.”
Olson has no doubts that Lowe will achieve great success with the program and is thrilled she succeeded her.
“I loved having her as a swimmer and an assistant coach,” she said. “I was so hopeful she would want to do that because it kind of felt like I was handing over my baby to somebody. The thought of being able to give that to Sara, who I knew was somebody who was so passionate about the program and Stanford, was really a gift to me.”
Watch additional footage on the Stanford Synchronized swimming team:
Toby Gerhart giving Synchro a shot at the 4:27: