Former San Jose police officer Tina Boales is a mom with a mission that is making waves around the globe. She has spearheaded a grassroots effort to provide competitive synchronized swimming opportunities at the elite level for people with disabilities worldwide–people like her 15-year-old daughter Raquel Boales. Raquel was born with a birth injury (Erb’s palsy), causing limited movement on her left side.
Life-long water therapy was recommended for Raquel, who started swimming at four months and became a certified swimmer at six months. Fast forward from surgery at five to the summer of 2014 when she made synchronized swimming history. At the Canadian National Synchronized Swimming Championships, she was the first disabled athlete to win gold medals in both the routines and figures competitions.
“When I got older, I began to do synchronized swimming, and my disability became smaller, and I built self-confidence. The fact that I’m able to do this- even though in the eyes of everybody I have a disability- is truly inspiring to me and to them. Because if you put your heart into things, nothing can stop you. I can achieve and reach my goals,” says Raquel, a sophomore at Saratoga High School.
The Canadian competitions were a turning point. It was there that a group of American and Canadian coaches, parents and swimmers decided to extend the outreach globally. In February 2015, the San Jose-based Synchronized Swimming Athletes with Disabilities Organization (SS-AWD) was formally established with Tina Boales as president.
The mission of the non-profit, international advocacy group is to educate people worldwide about synchronized swimming for people with disabilities, nurture disabled swimmers and introduce synchronized swimming for the disabled as a Paralympic sport. Already, SS-AWD has encouraged 13 countries to develop programs.
While the Special Olympics serves athletes with intellectual disabilities, the Paralympic Games are open to people with any kind of disability. SS-AWD must wait until the 2018 Paralympics to apply to have “synchro” added as an official sport of the 2024 Paralympics (www.paralympic.org).
California State Assemblymember Kansen Chu hosted a press conference November 19 at the Kona Kai Swim & Racquet Club, 680 Hubbard Ave., Santa Clara, to introduce the SS-AWD organization. Following a swimming performance by SS-AWD, Chu presented its swimmers and organizers with certificates of recognition from the state. The afternoon ended with a Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting.
“The Synchronized Swimming Athletes with Disabilities is a great opportunity for youth and adults with disabilities to discover their potential and recognize how much they can achieve,” states Chu. “The athletes do not only serve our local community, but also through their performance around the globe, have inspired thirteen countries to develop programs.”
SS-AWD is host to the newly-formed Bay Area Synchro, a local training team which will begin in January 2016 in three locations: Santa Clara, Los Gatos and San Jose. It will accept people age eight or older with any disability or special need for recreational and competitive training.
“Synchronized swimming has changed our lives for the better,” says Boales. “Raquel developed social team building skills both in school and with swimming. Synchronized swimming gives our family a chance to provide more for her in terms of what she’s able to do.”
Raquel, a Santa Clara Aquamaid, is excited to be a junior coach for other swimmers with disabilities and one of SS-AWD’s ambassadors. Raquel’s glob-trotting journey as an ambassador, which started unofficially in Canada, has taken her and other SS-AWD ambassadors to Taiwan, Japan and now Spain on December 1. In 2016, SS-AWD (www.synchroswimawd.org) plans to visit Japan again, then Italy, Russia and Brazil. It looks like they will be in the air as much as making waves.