Synchronised swimming may look serene and graceful, but former Commonwealth Games competitor and South African champion Kendra Semple quickly dispels that myth. “There’s water up the nose, scratches, kicks in the face, collisions, even concussion to contend with,” she says. Her comments confirm the cliché that athletes put their bodies on the line for sport, and it’s no different in synchronised swimming.
Indeed, being so close together and so reliant on perfect timing means that contact is inevitable. “People say it’s not a contact sport, but it is – in this instance, with your own teammate, who was usually my twin sister, Derryn,” laughs Kendra, who retired from competition three years ago at the ripe old age of 24. She now teaches swimming at Stamford American International School (Stamford).
Hailing from Durban, Kendra came to Singapore four years ago to assist her sister, who was then national coach for the Singapore synchronised swimming team. What was to be a three-month stint has been extended with each new opportunity. An early childhood teacher, Kendra is now in her third year at Stamford, and relishing her role leading and developing the school swimming programme.
“There was no programme before I joined, so I’ve built it from scratch, which is a great challenge; it’s satisfying to see the progression,” she says. Kendra teaches Physical Education (PE) and learn-to-swim classes to kids aged two to 16. She also established and leads the Stamford swim team, made up of 160 kids from Grades 1 to 10.
“We compete locally at swim meets and also attended the second Cognita Games in Thailand. The kids are training hard, and they enjoy the fun and excitement of competition.” Kendra also teaches synchronised swimming as a special six-week unit in PE classes at Stamford. “We choose a song, choreograph a routine and the kids really get a kick out of it.”
Interestingly, Kendra’s entry into the sport was purely by chance. “When I was five, my three sisters and I joined a swim club but we found it boring. There was a woman coaching ‘synchro’ on the other side of the pool, so we badgered our parents to try it. For my twin and me, from age six to 24, it became our life.” By Grade 10, Kendra and her sister were training daily; they went on to hold the number one spot in South Africa for seven years and competed in the Commonwealth Games.
“Every continent is entitled to one representative at the Olympics, but we were knocked out by Egypt in the qualifying rounds for Africa. We absolutely loved the sport, the friendships and the challenges too,” she says.
Hanging up her synchronised swimming nose plug for good does not mean the athletic and energetic Kendra is idle on the sofa. “I got into triathlons and have done four so far,” she says.
Kendra’s passion for sport is infectious. “I want to foster a culture whereby kids can find their own passion in sport. If kids enjoy a sport, they will always improve and do well. My other goal is to reinforce swimming as a team sport at Stamford, so the kids can encourage and support each other.”