By Joseph Coppolino
If any activity has been created specifically for twins, it is artistic swimming, and Anastasia and Maya Bell are the perfect example why.
The Colonel By Secondary School seniors and decorated artistic swimmers (their sport changed names from synchro) are indistinguishable over the phone, seamlessly weaving in and out of each other’s sentences as if doing a telepathic party trick.
“It’s a COVID problem,” said Anastasia — or Maya. “When lockdowns happen, apparently we become one person.”
This level of synchronization has treated the sisters well. Both Maya and Anastasia started in artistic swimming at just seven years old. Now 18, their careers in the sport have stretched over half their lives.
As with many top-performing athletes, the young ladies have an origin story that prophesies their potential. At a very young age, they proved to have a somewhat unnatural ability to swim and hold their breath.
“When we were 2 or 3, we would scare the lifeguards because we knew we could stay underwater for longer,” said Maya.
“They have this ability to override that need to breathe,” said the twins’ mother, Lindsay Bell.
A useful skill to have in a sport where your head is underwater half the time.
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Combining their strength in the water with an interest in dance, Lindsay enrolled the twins in artistic swimming, hoping it may tire out the rambunctious 7-year-olds.
The twins fell asleep in the car immediately after that first practice. But, despite the exhaustion, that introduction to the sport sparked in them a passion.
“We called ourselves synchronized swimmers from that day on,” said Anastasia.
Since starting to perform competitively at just 9 years old, Maya and Anastasia have committed themselves to train more than your typical teenage athletes, or anyone for that matter.
For years, the sisters have been training 20-30 hours a week, missing out on events with friends and family, leaving school early for practice and having to do their homework when they get home around 8 p.m. All while still maintaining a 90 average, of course.
“If you want to be a high-performance athlete, there is a certain amount of dedication, effort and work that has to be put into that,” said Maya. “To become successful in the pool, you also have to be successful in other aspects of your life.”
According to their coach at GO Capital Artistic Swimming, Geneviève Beauregard Ross, this high-achieving attitude demands a lot of sacrifices, especially for teenagers.
“They do live a different life,” said Beauregard Ross. “They do it because they love it. They happen to be talented, but they really do love it first.”
In the end, the sacrifices pay off.
Training and competing with their GO team, their shelves at home are lined with gold, silver and bronze from provincial, national and international competitions. They compete in higher age groups and go home with trophies just the same.
Just a few of their successes consist of golds at the UANA Junior Pan American Championships in 2018, bronze and silvers in 2019, and a whole list of provincial and national trophies from 2015 to today.
Of course, much like everything else, the pandemic put a pause on Maya and Anastasia’s 2020 season. Both were looking forward to another trophy-filled year, but lockdowns came as a blessing in disguise. Maya and Anastasia are nursing injuries but continue to train every day.
As they look forward to graduating high school in the coming weeks, the twins will take a gap year off studying to focus on getting to the next level. Both of them have set their sights on the grand prize of artistic swimming: the Olympics.
Over the next year, the two hope to make the junior national team, compete in the World Junior Championship and find their way into the senior training pool in Montreal. From there, they have the chance to be selected and go on to train for the Olympic team.
“We are going to train our butts off, and we are going to make it happen,” said Anastasia.
With public health measures still in place, the two are filling their time with other passions. Over the summer and in between training sessions, Anastasia plans on writing and illustrating a children’s book. Maya is looking forward to possibly recording an album and focusing more on her painting.
As if Olympic aspirations are not enough.