Discover Masters World: Lori Crawford & Penny De Meules (USA)


“I learned to swim on the Internet”

Five years ago, Lori Crawford did not know how to swim. Today she is 33 and is competing in synchronised swimming at a World Masters championship for the second time! How did she go from zero swimming skills to performing synchro routines? Here is the story.

It all started with a free gym membership. Where Lori used to live at the time there was a gym with a pool. One day, she decides to take it to the water and soon realise that she does not know how to swim. “Ok, I have to fix this,” she tells herself.

“I always loved water; I just did not know how to swim,” admits Lori. She grew up in Ohio and unlike California, “there was no pool around,” she explains.

Instead of signing up for swimming lessons, she goes online and finds training articles from Terry Laughlin's Total Immersion book (Terry is also a Masters swimmer). She follows his training method eagerly, watches videos online and virtually teaches herself how to swim. “His method in swimming is all about efficiency; it was really easy to learn how to do,” she says.

The next morning at 5 a.m., Lori goes to the pool to put theory into practice. In three months, Lori manages to swim properly.

But she doesn’t stop there. Wanting a little variation in the laps, she and her friend Akiko [Tanaka, whom she met at the pool] find the Unsyncables synchro club of La Mirada, south of downtown Los Angeles (Cal., USA). The club recently created a Masters synchro programme. They join the team in November 2004.

Lori perfectly recalls her feeling at the time: “We went to the first practice and did not feel very confident, especially after trying what the other synchro swimmers were doing [a ballet leg]; it was not going to be easy!”

Unsyncables Coach Laurette Longmire, reflecting on Lori’s accomplishment, says: “She has come a very long way in a very short amount of time, to be able to swim at a World championship.” In 2006, Lori swam her first Duet and Solo routines in Stanford. “I forgot the routine!” she recalls. This year in Gothenburg, Lori swam Solo and Team without memory gap.

No doubt the avid Masters synchro swimmer has a great facility for learning: “She is like a sponge; she’ll take any kind of information you can share with her,” notes Coach Longmire. Best of all, “she’s a lot of fun and has a very good attitude about the sport,” she continues.

Lori gets involved in the music selection of her routines (she used to play in a band). And the funnier the better! Lori, whose smile never fades while swimming a routine, chose Elvis this year. This water fanatic is also very active in the choreography build-up process, always seeking to improve her figures and learn new ones: “I like being in the water, and mostly, I like being upside down!” she says laughing.

Thanks to synchronised swimming, Lori feels stronger physically and a lot more confident in things that she can do. “And everything else is the friends!” she admits. Lori feels blessed to now belong to a family where she has many “mothers and sisters”.

“The camaraderie is exceptional at Masters”

Penelope ‘Penny’ De Meules also swims with the Unsyncables of La Mirada. This 68-year-old woman has a sunny nature and plenty of energy to spare.

The Ohio-native started synchronised swimming at 16: “I went to a community pool during the summer and started taking lessons.” The kids used to do water shows but there was no opportunity to compete.  

She later continues training at Ohio State University but the attention synchronised swimming gets at the time is quite poor: “We had a 20-meter pool which was four lanes wide; when we had a show, we gave the tickets for free and no one showed up,” recalls Penny.

She then went to L.A. to act as a volunteer until she started coaching and judging. “I had very limited skills to begin with,” she remembers. After a while, Penny felt she needed to go back in the pool again.  

She has been practicing synchro since and is attending her third World Masters meet in Gothenburg, after Riccione (ITA, 2004) and Stanford (USA, 2006). She loves the friendly atmosphere. Although they are the oldest of the competition, Penny and her teammates really proved that age is just a number, swimming their routine with much elegance and an impressive level of performance!

That said, Penny recognises that with age, practicing synchro requires some adjustments: “We try to keep fit in any way we can”. She has been taking yoga for a couple of years. Optimistic by nature, she says: “I want to continue as long as I can!”

Eight years ago, Penny was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent mastectomy and continued to swim. She lost all her hair but swam in a wig, used caps instead of putting her hair up and has been healthy since. “People kept asking whether I changed my vision of life afterwards and I said ‘No, why?’” says Penny.

Over time, the synchro team has become like a “family” for Penny, providing not only unconditional support but also a common ground to look ahead. In many respects, Lori’s story, like Penny’s, is decisively about how Masters (synchronised) swimming, at any age, can help provide a chance to overcome one’s personal troubles, and most importantly, to keep setting and achieving goals through life.