Juneau teen-ager: Expert swimmer, counselor, teacher

Posted: Friday, July 14, 2000

Shalom Schrader and Jacilyn Hayden are learning synchronized swimming under the watchful eye of Julia Klein on a recent Saturday morning.

The 12-year-old girls lie on their backs in the Augustus Brown Swimming Pool, legs straight and motionless. They keep aloft by waving their arms through the water. Schrader bends a knee and lifts up a leg.

``You should be able to hold it a lot longer than that,'' Klein tells her.

Klein is watching everything, including the girls' facial expressions. Someday, it could all count.

Klein, 19, is a member of the Juneau Aurora Knights, a synchronized swimming team. She placed second in the C division figures event at the U.S. Collegiate Synchronized Swimming Championships at Ohio State University this spring. She swam solo for the University of Alaska Southeast, where she studies.

Klein also teaches beginning synchronized swimming for the city Parks and Recreation Department. It's a way for kids to get some skill and go on to the team, she said.

Hayden said she might try out for the Aurora Knights.

``They're just very graceful in the water. I think it's very cool,'' she said. Klein ``doesn't pressure you over your limit, but she still teaches me a lot. She has a way of getting me to do what she wants me to do.''

Klein is also active with the 4-H program in Juneau, operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Following five years as a counselor, she's co-directing 17 counselors and about 65 youths at the 4-H camp this week at the Eagle River United Methodist Camp.

But Klein said she'll miss having her own cabin of girls to lead around. ``That was my favorite part.''

``She's extremely good with kids,'' said Jim Douglas of the Cooperative Extension here. ``She has a lot of empathy with kids who are not having a good time.''

4-H also offers various clubs through the school year, and Klein has been in some of them since she was 11. They gave the home-schooled girl an outlet for arts such as square dancing and crafts such as needlepoint. She describes herself as a person who can't do just one thing at a time. If she's watching television, she's also making something.

``She's one of those people who picks up a crafts book and it makes sense,'' Douglas said. Klein, who excels at teaching others, led a 4-H crafts club for a year, he said.

Clothes she has sewn have won grand champion awards at state fairs in Haines and Palmer, Douglas said.

``Pretty much anything I found in the house I would send,'' Klein said. ``And then I would even bake cookies and things, too. But usually I don't have very much success with my baked goods because by the time they got there they're all stale.''

Klein was one of the first youths to join the Aurora Knights when it began several years ago, said head coach and founder Christine Tait. Klein brought enthusiasm and dedication to the sport and was voted captain last year, she said. This year, Klein helped coach the team while Tait was in Switzerland.

That meant Klein had to prepare for the collegiate competitions on her own. That included all the administrative advance work and raising money to travel. UAS doesn't ordinarily compete in intercollegiate sports, so it doesn't have an athletic director to help.

``But she made it work,'' Tait said. ``Other people might have given up and said it was too much work.''

At the national championships, Klein stayed with a team from Massachusetts and got some tips from its coach. ``Just to have somebody watch me at the time and say, `This is what you need to work on,' it really does help,'' she said.

Solo swimmers are synchronized with the routine's music. They need strong technical skill at the various figures that make up a routine, and they need strong presentation skills, Tait said.

``You have to make someone want to watch you for four or five minutes, which isn't always easy,'' Tait said. ``No. 1, you have to be able to smile when you're in excruciating pain.''

The swimmers' lungs are ``burning,'' Tait said. Their thighs are burning from ``egg-beating'' -- treading the water with their legs forcefully enough to keep their torso above the water.

``I don't know why I like synchronized swimming so much,'' Klein said. ``It's hard work.''

The C division in college is entry level. She expects to compete in the more advanced B division this upcoming school year. The competitions give her something to work toward, a reason to improve, she said.

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