In Tiny Hancock, N.H., A Synchronized Swimming Team Like No Other

Aug 29, 2017

The Synchro Sisters performing in Hancock, New Hampshire's Norway Pond.
Credit Courtesy of Doug Flamino

Each August, the town of Hancock, N.H., does what every good town should do: it celebrates itself. Hancock’s Old Home Days are a chance for residents to relish the quaintness of their community.

Along with a parade, talent show, 5K race and ice cream social, there is also a high-spirited water ballet performance by a group of local women. They’re called the Synchro Sisters...and they have a secret.

(Editor’s note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)

The Synchro Sisters come marching into town like they’ve never seen a cloud in the sky, never felt the sting of rejection.

They smile and wave and throw candy to children lining the parade route on Hancock’s Main Street. With their colorful but appropriately modest one-piece swimsuits on display, they offer a hint of the performance to come.

“Pretty smoking hot,” explains Maryanne Cullinan, a second-year Synchro Sister.

For the ninth consecutive summer, the amateur performers are about to dazzle dozens, possibly hundreds of fans, in the pond in the center of this Norman Rockwell town.

Cullinan encourages those in attendance to not judge the Sisters by the daring of their acrobatics, or the crispness of their routine. Instead, they should just enjoy.

Julie Brown, left, along with some of her Sisters recap their performance.
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

“I would say the Synchro Sisters aren’t always synchronized, and we are not always swimming, but we are always a spectacle to behold.”

It’s time to reveal the synchro secret: they perform in shallow water. Their synchro toes, in fact, are often pressing off of Norway Pond’s sandy bottom. To call them synchronized swimmers is to misinterpret what these ladies accomplish.

“We do a lot of standing, a lot of twirling, there is some mechanics in the water where we aren’t actually standing,” says Ashley Flamino. “But it is an illusion.”

An illusion worth falling for every time.

The Sisters have spent many evenings during the past several months training for their one and only performance. (After practice, they’re known to walk into the local inn in dripping wet outfits, ready to enjoy a cocktail together.)

While joining the team is an opportunity for camaraderie and, dare we say, sisterhood, longtime member Julie Brown says expectations for the two-song performance deserve to be high this year.

“Sometimes we don’t practice until June or July, a little too late. But this year, we got an early start, so we are feeling prepared,” she says.

In the 1950s and 60s, the ladies of Hancock carried out a similar summer spectacle. In 2008, self-proclaimed Synchro Mother Amy Markus helped renew the tradition, and more recently, handed over the reins.

“I love that we passed it onto a new generation of women, because those of us that started were in our 40s and 50s and some older,” she says. “And I love that a group of younger women have taken it on and improved it, even.”

DO YOU LOVE ME?

After the parade reaches its conclusion, fifteen of the bravest women the Monadnock Region has to offer don their swim caps. They huddle up for a last minute pep talk when, up above, a bald eagle starts circling.

“Do you see it? That’s a good sign,” says an audience member to no one in particular.

With that all-American omen overhead, the clock strikes 12:30pm.

“I’d like to introduce the Synchro Sisters,” announces the master of ceremonies. “You are a very lucky crowd.”

The opening number is set to a Florence and the Machine song. It starts out slowly with each Sister descending into the dark water.

Then, a crescendo builds. Arms sway left and right and reach for the sky. Then, a wave of swanlike motions, flurry kicks, and moves nobody could possibly find a suitable name for.

With the music leading the way, a group of Sisters form a circle, with a smaller group of Sisters trapped inside of the circle. They anchor into a platform and there, standing on their shoulders, three more Sisters suddenly appear. They spring clear out of the water.

The flying Sisters look a little panicked, but the crowd loves it.

During the 11-or-so minutes of their performance, there is nothing wrong with the world. It’s just these ladies doing their thing; dancing their hearts out underwater to The Contours hit ‘Do You Love Me.’

The Synchro Sisters do know a secret. It’s to not take themselves too seriously.