This has been a great year for Hong Kong’s real-life mermaid Haruka Kawazoe. The 16-year-old from South Island School has become a synchronised swimming sensation.
The sport is one of the most difficult in the world – combining swimming, gymnastics and dance – and, therefore requires a great deal of athleticism and grace.
But Haruka has proven herself as one of the city’s best by winning four gold medals, as well as one silver and bronze at the Hong Kong Panasonic Asia Championships. She also participated in the Fina Synchronised Swimming World Championships, which she called “a once in a lifetime experience”.
Despite her great success, getting there was far from easy, and Haruka has faced many hurdles over the course of her six-year career.
“In my opinion, synchronised swimming is a really tough sport and there have always been thoughts about giving up,” she said.
“But after accomplishing my goals and completing challenges that I once thought to be impossible, the satisfaction and the smiles on my coach and parents’ faces keeps me going.”
One of the main challenges is balancing her intensive training regimen with the always demanding IB Diploma.
“Since synchronised swimming is very time-consuming, and it is very hard for us to balance our training schedule and revision time,” said Haruka, “my friends help me a lot when I am away for competitions. They make sure I don’t fall behind in my assignments, and answer a lot of my questions so I can catch up on my work.”
Life got especially hectic for Haruka when training for Fina, which took place just after school exams.
“Our training schedule definitely got intense in preparation for Fina,” explained Haruka. “I usually train four or five times per week, but because I had to miss several training sessions during the exam period, I had to make up for it by training every day of the week for a while.”
In addition to her family and friends, it’s the support of her coaches and teammates – with whom she has to be perfectly in sync with – that help her get through difficult the times.
“Over these six years, my teammates have gone from strangers to family,” said Haruka. “We help each other through obstacles. There were times when training was dreadful, but we tried to smile and push through it together.”
Although her hard work and love for the sport have made her realise she’d like to continue her athletic career as long as possible, Haruka is concerned about the Hong Kong government’s lack of support for synchronised swimmers.
“I want to pursue synchronised swimming until I’ve graduated from university,” she said.
“But I think it will be very hard to continue synchronised swimming as a career in Hong Kong because, unlike other countries, we get very little subsidy from the government, which makes it very hard to make a living.”
Haruka now has her sights on the Fina Youth World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, and the Asian Games in Indonesia next year. How she performs in those contests may determine how long she will continue to pursue the sport; however, one thing’s for certain – she’ll give it everything she’s got.
“To any athletes out there, there will always be hard times when you’ll want to give up,” she said.
“But like my coach always says, push through the pain, perseverance and determination is the key to success.”