Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In Sync

Heartwarming front-page story in yesterday's WSJ on a courageous young man trying to break down barriers of discrimination (sub req):

Kenyon Smith, a lithe and good-looking young man who just had his 18th birthday, is an Aquamaid.

He swims, in unison, with the Santa Clara Aquamaids, a club of synchronized swimmers. All the other Aquamaids are girls. They wear sparkly bathing suits, gobs of makeup and starlet smiles as they splash-dance around the pool. They show a lot of leg.

Comics think synchro is great material, and when the joke is on a person of the nonfemale sex, it's a sure winner. So let's all laugh at Kenyon Smith, the male synchronized swimmer.


Now here's the not-so-comical part: Young Mr. Smith isn't just any old male synchronized swimmer. He's a phenomenon. His twists and splits and head-down pirouettes are crisp and fast. His rocket thrusts him out of the water, pointy-toes first, all the way up to his armpits. He can swim almost 75 yards underwater without blacking out.

There are only two things this Aquamaid can't do: Go to a U.S. college on a sports scholarship. And go for gold at the Olympics.

All because he's a he. Women have broken into everything from wrestling to rodeo, but in synchronized swimming, the deep end is strictly roped off to men. Colleges striving for sexual parity, as civil-rights law requires, won't let men waltz-crawl with women. At the Olympic Summer Games, only boxing and baseball still exclude women; only softball, rhythmic gymnastics and synchro still exclude men.

No one will be cheering harder for Kenyon to overcome this disgusting gender bias and realize his Olympic dreams than a certain silver-haired talk radio shock jock from Southern California. Few people know this, but back in his days as a young lifeguard at a community pool in Warren, Ohio, Hugh Hewitt dreamed of being the first to shatter stereotypes and break the synchronized swimming gender barrier.

After his shift as a guard was over and the pool was closed, Hugh would slip into his sparkly suit and spend hours splitting, twisting, pirouetting, and splash-dancing in the water as the "Toreador Song" from the opera "Carmen" pierced the stillness of the air on those glorious Midwest summer nights. Hugh's goal was nothing less than to be the Jackie Robinson of the sport that he so loved.

Alas, small-minded prejudices and closed minds thwarted Hugh's dreams. Today, age and infirmity have taken a terrible toll on his once flexible lithe body and if he were to enter the water again, he would no doubt sink like a stone. But he still has the synchronized swimming fire burning in his now greatly expanded belly. And while in his head he knew his dreams had been crushed, they couldn't take away his passion for twisting in the pool from his heart.

So if one day Kenyon Smith is able to stand proudly on the Olympic podium and receive a synchronized swimming medal, he won't just be realizing his dream, but also the dream that's still alive and kicking in the soul of an aged talk radio host. When they does day comes, I expect that the pent-up emotions will finally spill over and the tears will stream--in a perfectly synchronized manner of course--down Hugh's well-weathered face. Don't ever let the dream die Kenyon.

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