Harding grad Simmons hopes to compete on big stage for synchronized swimming
DELANEY SIMMONS WAS 7 years old when she took up the sport of synchronized swimming, a pursuit that in a few years meant weekend commutes from Sioux Falls, S.D., to the Twin Cities for more intense training and competition.
A couple of years into high school, Simmons went all in on the sport and its demands. That meant leaving her family and friends behind and relocating to the Twin Cities permanently. It later meant graduating early from St. Paul Harding Senior High School in pursuit of the Olympic dream.
“My (former) team was pretty small and the goals of my team were just to have fun and obviously we worked hard,” said Simmons, 17, “but it just wasn’t the intensity that I wanted to achieve my goals.”
Leaving Sioux Falls, her hometown, was a big transition, Simmons said.
Through a connection with coaches in the Twin Cities, Simmons moved in with her grandparents in St. Paul to concentrate on training. She joined the St. Paul Stars, one of the top synchronized swimming teams in Minnesota, which competes nationally. She found it much more demanding, using words such as “scary” and “intimidating” to describe her new team.
Simmons wanted more opportunities, so her father suggested she graduate high school early. She finished school in the summer and will attend Lindenwood University, a private Division II school in St. Charles, Mo. The Lady Lions synchronized swimming team won its first High Point title in program history at the U.S. Senior National Championships in April in California.
“It’s been a lot of growing up quickly, working with counselors and teachers on how to get these credits and go to college a year early,” Simmons said.
Having competed in the Junior Olympics seven times and at nationals three times, Simmons is hoping that competing at the collegiate level will give her a shot at trying out for the 2020 Olympic team – her ultimate goal.
“My goal is to make the national team, which basically is to swim for the team,” she said. “I think it would be awesome to swim on an Olympic duet, but right now my goal is to be on the team.”
Simmons spends several hours a day practicing routines – between three and six hours per day, roughly four to six days
“Everyone you know, they train a lot more hours and are a lot more strict on your lifestyle outside of the pool, too,” Simmons said.
Johannah White, assistant coach for the St. Paul Stars, has helped encourage Simmons through hard practices and tough competitions.
“Delaney is great to work with and she has a lot of potential and a lot motivation,” White said. “She likes to try to motivate the other athletes.”
Having a packed schedule full of advanced classes and also working part-time as a lifeguard, Simmons has had thoughts of quitting at times. Synchronized swimming can be challenging, but Simmons has looked to others to find inspiration.
“It’s really inspiring for me to look at people before me who have done similar things,” Simmons said. “Most of the girls on the national team and on the top clubs teams and collegiate teams – everybody has given up something.”
With the guidance of St. Paul Stars coaches and with the support of her teammates, Simmons also has learned the importance of coping with mental stress.
“We have plenty of office talks where we’ll be in the pool – and not everybody has a good day and so if it’s been a pretty bad day, I’ll try to pull the athlete aside, Delaney being one,” White said. “We go sit in the office that’s right off the pool and just talk about what was going on, and (we’re) trying to find the root of the problem.”
Despite being unsure of what’s to come in her swimming career, Simmons is more confident than nervous.
“A lot of people look at the commitment that it takes, and I was young when I started my journey, so I was very ambitious,” Simmons said. “But really it is worth it to be able to achieve something you didn’t think you could achieve, that other people might have not thought you could achieve, so it’s worth the work and sacrifice.”