Michael Chan Makes History
by Alyssa Jacobs, USA Artistic Swimming
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A few weeks ago, the 13-15 national team was announced after extensive evaluations and considerations to determine who will represent the Stars and Stripes at upcoming youth championships. A talented group of twelve were selected from those that participated. Included in this cohort of gifted athletes was 14-year-old Michael Chan, the first male artistic swimmer to be a a member of the 13-15 national team. Chan comes from Audubon, Penn. And trains with Freedom Valley YMCA Synchro. His national team appointment comes at a time where inclusion in our sport is growing and there is an international desire to include mixed duet in the Olympic program. Chan will train and compete in the mixed duet category with a female counterpart who will be selected from the team at a later date.
Chan has been an artistic swimmer for three years, making his start in the sport after he decided to move on from gymnastics and his friends recommended trying his skills in the water. The young athlete states that he was hesitant at first, but grew to love the sport.
His coach, Jennifer Hatt, said the staff at Freedom Valley YMCA Synchro saw something special in him right away: “When Michael started in our lesson program, another coach was teaching the class and said, ‘you have to come watch him’. We knew that he had a background in gymnastics which is always a plus for our sport. We were very impressed with his body awareness and his ability to work with corrections so easily, others don’t have that level of body awareness at his age.”
Being the first young, male athlete in his position inspires Michael to work twice as hard to better himself so he can keep up with his counterparts who may have been training for longer. In fact, Michael says the thing he is most nervous about is keeping up with everyone’s stamina. He noted that everyone else on the team looks like they can swim across the Pacific Ocean without breaking a sweat. Still, Chan says the creativity and feeling of exploration with new choreography is what he enjoys most about artistic swimming and keeps him going. His idols are close to home in the United States: Bill May, Anita Alvarez and Andrea Fuentes.
“I can’t really choose just one person I look up to. I look up to Bill May, not just because he is a male in the sport, but because he’s amazing at it. He has helped carve a path for boys like me to participate and continues to push for inclusion. At the same time, I admire Anita Alvarez and Andrea Fuentes because they both spread so much positivity and showcase amazing, unique choreography that inspires me. I watch and rewatch Anita’s routines and videos to figure out her movements,” he said.
There is much to look forward to for Michael’s experience on the national team. Outside of his growth as an athlete, Michael is extremely excited about the opportunity to wear a USA parka.
“Anyone with a USA parka instantly looks ten-times cooler. I’m really excited to buy one,” he said.
His coach says having Michael represent our country in a sport that has historically been slow to embrace males will be groundbreaking.
“Having Michael be a part of the team shows that USA is embracing males in our sport and being inclusive. I remember when Bill May was hoping to go to the Olympics. It was heartbreaking to watch someone at the top of their sport be denied the opportunity," Jennifer said. "Thanks to Bill, we are closer to allowing males in the Olympics. I think it also shows other countries that we are serious about supporting males in our sport."
Michael’s parents are confident in his ability to rise to the challenge and grow.
“We are extremely proud of Michael. He works hard and has an amazing ability to work with others. He is never afraid to try new things. He admires the great athletes that show exceptional skill and he wants to be exceptional as well. I hope he can enjoy himself and soak up this experience with new coaches and new friends,” his mother said.