Butera spends summer with U.S. Synchro Swimming Team

Wheaton College synchronized swimming junior Christiana Butera (San Diego, Calif./Academy of Our Lady of Peace) and the rest of the United States National Synchronized Swimming Team recently competed at the 14th FINA World Aquatic Championships at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center in China from July 17-13.

Butera - who is believed to be the first NCAA Division III swimmer named to a U.S. national team - helped Team USA capture ninth place in the team tech final with a score of 87.900 and place 10th in the team free final with a score of 86.800. 

The roster included five returning athletes from the 2010 national team that took sixth at last year's competition. Team USA began training on January 24 in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of USA Synchro national headquarters and sponsor Saint Vincent Sports Performance (SVSP). Butera joined the national team following a 2010-11 season at Wheaton which saw the Lyons place sixth at the U.S. Collegiate Championship – their highest finish since 2002.

"Christiana is a truly inspiring athlete," said Wheaton head synchronized swimming coach Rebecca Story. "She's not only passionate about what she does, but she motivates those around her to become better athletes. As her coach, I'm looking forward to getting her back in the pool and utilizing the knowledge she gained as part of the national team. Sharing her experiences and training techniques will be vital to our success this season. I'm proud to call Christiana a Wheaton student-athlete, and I'm even more proud to say that she's the first Division III swimmer to make national team 1. As a team, we love setting new records and hope to post a few more firsts before Christiana graduates. After that, Christiana will be an amazing coach!"

A three-time USA Synchro All-Collegiate and All-Academic selection her first three seasons at Wheaton, Butera served as co-captain of the Lyons this past season. As a freshman, she performed duet and team routines at the U.S. National Championship, marking the first time a Wheaton team routine competed since 1996. Her sophomore season, Butera took eighth in solo at the U.S. Collegiate Championship, which automatically qualified her to compete at national trials.

Below is a blog written by Christiana detailing her experience with the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team this summer:

Making U.S. National Team I was a dream come true, a Cinderella story of a Division III athlete who made it all the way. The experience itself was more intense than I could have imagined or prepared for, both good and bad.

We trained in Indianapolis at the Natatorium at IUPUI. It was a beautiful facility, and all the staff and patrons knew of and respected our team. We generally were in the water for seven hours a day, five days a week. On weekends, we had one five-hour practice on Saturday. Sunday was our day off.

On any given day, the hours not spent swimming were spent doing weight lifting with trainers, getting physical therapy treatment, land drilling exercises specific to our routines, gymnastics training, cardio, flexibility training, or reviewing all the choreography changes on our own. We worked with Saint Vincent's Sports Performance Center, which is where we had resources for lifting, treatment, sports psych, and nutrition. It is also the facility where the Indianapolis Colts train, which was totally unreal to see every day!

I was pushed to endurance training levels I never thought I could reach. Now, I am easily in the best physical shape I have ever been in, and probably ever will be. Looking back on the experience, I will naturally highlight all the positive aspects, but must also include how truly difficult physically and mentally it was to persevere and face each day knowing how challenging, draining, and unforgiving training would be. I learned so much about myself in seeing just how strong I am as an individual and an athlete, while at the same time realizing my own weakness in times when I truly questioned if I would make it through the experience.

My team was a wonderfully cohesive group of girls ranging from the ages of 16-25, and these relationships carried me through the toughest practices. These girls are the greatest gift I received from the experience because they made me better as an overall person, and were a model of supportive, determined, fair, honest, hard working, and sincere teammates.  

Our first competition came the first week of June, and we were off to the Brazil Open in Rio De Janiero. This was my first experience at an international meet, and it was absolutely incredible. It was at this meet where it became real to me that I was truly a member of the National Team. Even as an alternate, wearing the USA gear, standing on the podium in the medals ceremony, and being on 'SportsCenter' on ESPN Brazil was completely overwhelming and exciting. It was also a nice perk that our hotel was roughly four blocks away from Copacabana Beach, which is where we spent our last day.

After that, it was back to Indianapolis, and a short month later we were off to Shanghai China for World Championships. This competition was a whole new level of professionalism. The venue was absolutely incredible - the natatorium resembled a football stadium with a pool instead of a field in the middle, and fans filled the seats! It was incredible to experience synchro as a spectator sport. I really hope that someday it will be that way in the U.S. There were television cameras everywhere, and we were be asked to be interviewed and in pictures. We were treated like celebrities.

The opening ceremonies were incredible and consisted of numerous dancers, singers, synchro swimmers, and an indescribable amount of colored lights and rehearsal! I was so excited and humbled to see some teams and competitors in person who I have been idolizing and watching on YouTube for years. We stayed in a five-star hotel complete with high security, paparazzi, a menu of different pillows to order each night, as well as a T.V. in the bathtub! The entire U.S. delegation of water sports stayed in this hotel, and I even had an embarrassing moment just four steps away from someone who turned out to be Michael Phelps. Oops!

The competition went well and we were all proud of our performances and the progress our team had made. Although I learned so much and had some great highlights from the experience, I am looking forward to coming back to Wheaton for my senior year and making our team as strong as we possibly can be.

I have no idea what the future holds for my swimming career. All I know is that I will continue pursuing excellence in it wherever and for however long I am able to say that I love it and am happy doing it!

-Christiana Butera, Wheaton class of 2012

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