Grace Lytle is gaining national recognition in a sport few in northern San Diego County know much about.
When she brings it up, the typical response is “I didn’t even know that was a thing out here,” Lytle said.
Synchronized swimming is very much a thing out here.
Lytle is among 40 or so members of a local club team that’s literally venturing into unchartered waters.
San Dieguito Synchro swim club sent 16 northern San Diego County athletes to this year’s Junior Olympics, all of whom made the finals for the first time in club history.
Danielle Coggburn took over the Northern San Diego County’s club six years ago. The club was founded in 2004.
Lytle, who’ll be a freshman at Canyon Crest Academy this fall, and Olivia Dalry (Cathedral Catholic High School) placed 11th in the intensely competitive 13-to 15-year-olds duets competition.
Sixteen-to 17-year-old duets Samantha Whitley and Mari Burigana (La Costa Canyon) placed 10th.
Lytle and Dalry were among five local athletes who were part of a 15-to-19-year-old combo team that placed eighth. Phoebe and Lily Kreps (both of San Dieguito Academy) and Joanne Wang (Torrey Pines High School) were the other members of the team.
Rose Bonhome and Kylie Hayasse (both of CCA) and Jamie Xiao, (The Bishop’s School) were part of a 16-and 17-year-old team that placed 10th.
Alexandra Suarez left Cathedral Catholic after her junior year to train with the Team USA in Moraga (Contra Costa County).
Suarez and Lytle are among three club members who were invited to compete with the national team. Lytle is the club’s youngest swimmer and has tremendous upside, Coggburn said.
“She’s the youngest girl on the team but she’s the hardest working and I would say one of my top kids.” Coggburn said.
Lytle credits the club with bringing the sport to an area that until relatively recently offered athletes no outlets. The only other club in San Diego County is in Chula Vista.
“If I wasn’t in my club,” she said, “I would’ve never found this sport.”
Coggburn said she’s committed to helping local residents find the sport.
Coggburn was once a rising star. She was training with Team USA in Santa Clara when she suffered a career-ending shoulder injury.
She moved to the San Diego to complete her education, earning a master’s degree in special education at San Diego State University.
But she could never shake her love for a sport she started competing in when she was 10 growing up in Seattle.
“I think it’s a such a unique sport, people really don’t really know much about it,” Coggburn said. “It’s kind of like one of the things that you see in the Olympics every four years maybe. It’s a niche sport.”
Lytle started synchronized swimming when she was 6. She prides herself for taking on an ambassadorship role.
“I’ve always felt a lot of pride in my sport because it really isn’t something you see all over the place,” Lytle said. “People see it in the Olympics and they see it as a pretty sport and they’re like ‘Oh maybe it shouldn’t really be considered a sport,’ but I want people see the effort and the amount of training that we go through.”
The training synchronized swimmers do to excel at their sport includes ballet, palates, stretching and strength training.
“There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes that you don’t see,” Lytle said. “I want people to know that we work really, really hard.”
Lytle also works really hard on the mental side of her craft.
She believes calming down her nerves before competitions is at least as tough as the physical part of competing.
“I feel that because I’m surrounded by my friends, people who’ve been in my life that I feel like I can lean on, that helps, but I definitely do get really, really nervous for competitions, Lytle said. “It’s stressful for sure.”
When that doesn’t work, she turns to her Plan B.
She recently went to a camp where coaches encouraged swimmers to manage their anxiety by going into “robot mode.”
“It’s like, if you feel like you can’t do it, you just have to switch onto this mode where you know what you have to do and you just perform the way you’ve been training,” Lytle said.
She’ll have to turn to her human instincts, however, balancing the competing demands of her sport, academics and other endeavors.
“It can get quite stressful at times,” Lytle said, “but I feel that because I was brought in at such a young age and I’ve sort of grown up with it, I’ve learned to balance my schedule.
“I’m an early riser so I get stuff done in the morning before school and then I come home and I do my homework, but it’ll be different in high school because I’ll have more work.”
For more information, visit sdsynchro.org