Supporting Jamaica's Artistic Swim Team
At The Opes Group, we believe that those who want to make the world a better place must be the agents of the change they wish to see. Our team members have supported a range of interests that all serve to improve our social fabric. Our company dedicates resources and our expertise to support a small organization every year. This year we are working with the wonderful Island Aquatics Synchronized Swimming Team in Jamaica.
Jamaica has been a dominant force in international athletic competitions. In particular, its athletes have won 87 Olympic medals in track and field – and yet the country whose intensely beautiful beaches and sparkling azure waters draw visitors from around the world has never had an artistic swimming team in the Olympics. The Island Aquatics Synchronized Swimming Team aims to change that. If a Jamaican bob-sleigh team can make it surely a swim team can!
In 2006, Olga Novokshchenova, a Russian two-time Olympic Gold medalist in synchronized swimming moved to Port Antonio, Jamaica. As a hobby, she began teaching the sport to her best friend’s daughter and before she knew it, several other girls wanted to participate as well. Novokshchenova estimates that she has taught over 200 girls and boys how to swim throughout her 16 years in Port Antonio. After seeing how they fared in the pool, she would ask the top swimmers to see if they wanted to take things a bit further by learning synchronized swimming. As more and more girls chose to elevate their game she soon formed The Island Aquatics Synchronized Swimming Team. The team currently consists of 40 girls ranging in age from 5 to 21 years old. Two of the senior swim members are also currently coaching the younger girls.
The emergence of such a dynamic program in the sleepy town of Port Antonio was exciting! These young ladies were invigorated by a new sense of purpose and committed to daily 3-hour training sessions to develop their skills and explore whether they could go from experimenting in their coach’s little home pool to qualifying for international competitions. They surpassed their own expectations. Over the years they have represented Jamaica at numerous international events such as CARIFTA, CCCAN (Central American and Caribbean Swimming Championships), UANA Pan American Synchronized Swimming Championships, and several others. Forget merely qualifying, they have been winning several medals along the way. In 2017, at the Junior Olympic Championships in Florida, they placed in the top three across several categories including first place in duets, second in the 12-and-under category and third in the solo category.
These achievements not only garnered a high-profile write-up in the New York Times in 2018 but later led to their participation in a 2019 music video with Beyonce for her ‘Black is King’ album. Beyonce specifically sought to work with these girls because she wanted to highlight an underrepresented sport in minority circles and motivate them to continue pushing boundaries despite obstacles. She told the girls she “understands the challenges of being a person of color in the industry trying to make a living, but we should never give up.”
These young ladies have been following that advice. The team now has branches in Kingston and Montego Bay, and even found ways to compete virtually during the pandemic! In addition, they hosted their first television special in December 2021. The one-hour show, aired on Television Jamaica, offered a series of newly choreographed water dance routines interspersed with the appearance of several local celebrities including Sean Paul. Please visit the team's Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube Channel to see some of their extraordinary performances.
Despite these many wins, the reality is that Track & Field is overwhelmingly popular in Jamaica and can easily drown other voices. The team has been working with meager resources and as we say in Jamaica “every day bucket go a well, one day bottom must drop out’. Growth hurdles need to be addressed today to position the platform for future success. The base team is outgrowing Olga’s pool and needs a bigger practice center in Port Antonio. Even if they are to stay at her pool for a few more years her home is in a challenging location and families are often not able to afford transportation costs. Pool maintenance and other training costs have been steadily increasing. In addition to all the above, procuring a visa in order to leave the country for competitions has been difficult and when they are obtained the families struggle to pay visa fees, meet fees and travel costs. These issues often mean that although they all train together only a few team members attend meets. This limits the potential medal count and reinforces the invisibility problem.
These are not insurmountable issues, with your financial support and contribution of resources (visa approvals, airport pickups, offering your home for an overnight stay to reduce hotel costs etc.) this team can blossom into the water lilies that they were meant to be. Please contact us here at Opes today if you would like to join us in supporting this team and we will put you in touch directly with the team's management.
The skills learned while training and competing develop the mental discipline, tenacity and public presentation skills needed in our future leaders. The Island Aquatics Synchronized Swimming Team is the first synchronized swimming club in Jamaica since 1998. Your support can pave their way to the Olympics one meet at a time. Please join us in making history.