Emmanuella Tchakmakjian, 17, of Lafayette, Calif., is on the fast-track to the Olympics as a member of the USA Synchronized Swimming Senior National Team.
Each day at 6 a.m., 17-year-old Emmanuella Tchakmakjian turns off her alarm clock, climbs out bed and begins a ten-minute stretching routine to prepare her muscles for the day of training to come. By 6:50 a.m., she arrives at the National Training Center in Moraga, Calif., where she’ll spend the next six to ten hours practicing with her team in the pool. With sights set on the 2020 Summer Olympics, Emmanuella and the rest of the USA Synchronized Swimming Senior National Team continue in unshakable pursuit of their dreams.
“My goal from a young age has always been to go to the Olympics,” said Emmanuella. “The idea that I could get the chance to represent the United States and ultimately be able to reach the Olympic level inspired me and drove me to work harder.”
Emmanuella’s first experience with synchronized swimming started with a basic class at five years old. A natural at the sport, her coach moved her up an age group by the time she turned seven. By age 11, Emmanuella had already made her first national team. Now, six years later, Emmanuella is traveling the world as a representative of the United States of America in synchronized swimming. Most recently, her team competed in the Pan American Championships in Lima, Peru, swimming away with a bronze medal and getting one stroke closer to realizing its Olympic dream.
While Emmanuella may be on track to become an Olympian—with the competition taking place a mere two months after she graduates from high school—she is still a regular teenager. However, her experience with school falls outside the norm—Emmanuella doesn’t attend a traditional high school. Instead, at the end of each grueling day of training, she exits the pool and enters the virtual hallways of her high school as a student at Laurel Springs School, an online private school.
“If I wasn’t able to do online school, then I wouldn’t be able to follow my dream of going to the Olympics,” said Emmanuella. “Laurel Springs allows me to complete my education at times that work for me, which helps me significantly with training and competition. I love the fact that it is accessible at any day, so I can complete my work on the weekends and get ahead of schedule.”
With each day packed full of training and schoolwork, it’s hard to imagine how Emmanuella continuously finds the will to keep moving forward, let alone make time for herself. However, she says she’s used to pushing her limits.
“If you want to be a successful synchronized swimmer, you need a ridiculous amount of mental strength,” said Emmanuella. “Not just the mental strength of pushing your limits, but also the mental strength of being adaptable in every single situation; the mental strength of staying eight hours in a cold pool; the mental strength of trying to make corrections, even when it feels like you have already tried every single way; the mental strength of diving into the pool even when you are so tired that you can barely walk.”
For Emmanuella, that crucial mental strength is derived from passion. To be successful, she says, synchronized swimmers must have a “pure love of the sport.”
“I love the challenges that synchronized swimmers face every single day and the exhilaration felt when overcoming them,” Emmanuella said. “The mental ability to persevere by separating the mind and the body to concentrate on the task at hand is truly unique. Pushing your body through its limits while your brain screams for air underwater is daunting, but provides a feeling of accomplishment and pride every single time. The feeling of making it through the practice and having that smile of ‘I did it’ drives me to experience that as much as I can.”
When the fervor of the Olympics has died down and she enrolls in college, Emmanuella says, she has aspirations of studying either Biology or Law. For now, she remains driven and focused to make her athletic dreams a reality.
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