‘Ignite the light...’

Emma Fraser-Mackenzie, synchro swimmer. Photo: Tracy Hardy

She is a typically laconic teenager but for her dead cheeky grin and snazzy designer glasses.

The word ‘good’ is lavishly applied. How are you? “Good.” How’s school? “Good.” How were the holidays? “Good.” Good as in to be desired or approved of. And yes, all is good in the world with 14-year-old Emma Fraser-Mackenzie.

And the Mount Maunganui teenager is as impressive and engaging as her name is long. Especially when she slips into her specially designed bright gold and spangled togs and Katy Perry is wound up.

‘Cause baby you’re a firework’, as the lyrics go. ‘Come on and show ‘em what you’re worth.’

It’s apparently a song of inspiration, with a message that everyone is beautiful and capable of leaving the world in awe. A personal favourite for songstress Perry.

It worked for Emma Fraser-Mackenzie. She took the song and her new routine into the North Island Synchronised Swimming Championships and left everyone there in awe. The long purple winner’s ribbon – ‘first participation’ it reads – is on the table at home just waiting for somewhere appropriate to be hung.

Mum Sara is popping with pride.

“Down syndrome kids can struggle with the land stuff like running and dancing, sometimes they can’t keep up. But put them in the water and it all comes together. Something to do with the combination of swimming, body movement and brain activity that has to happen.”

Synchronised swimming is also non-verbal which is a blessing for people like Emma. “They understand a lot of stuff but are not always able to communicate as much as they understand. They are good at thinking and working things out,” says Sara.

Former Brazilian synchro rep Suzanne Ribeiro is Emma’s coach at Tauranga Synchro at Baywave. There’s a special bond here – the coach hugs and kisses Emma when she arrives for the interview. And the teenager doesn’t mind the affection one iota.

“I am really amazed at her. Sometimes I think things will be too difficult for her but we see how it goes. And you just go and bomb!”

It seem there is a big move to synchronized swimming for the disabled right around the world. And next year there is a world championship in Japan. They’ve have had display events but never a competitive event. Now they’re establishing rules and guidelines for getting serious.

There’s that grin again. Emma quite likes the idea of Japan. But it’s something to be negotiated at the family dinner table perhaps. Coach Suzanne is certainly a champion of the idea.  

“I sent a video of Emma’s routine at the champs to a synchro friend in Brazil,” says Suzanne. “And she believes Emma is seriously good, top level. She certainly has the potential.”

In the meantime, more mundane matters. Suzanne is trying to build a group of special synchro swimmers. She has Emma and another girl from Cambridge who comes across. There’s a room for one more in this class. “But we could also have more classes.”

As for a career, Emma has mentioned corrections, being a prison officer. “Or a synchronised swimmer.”

And Emma may find further inspiration in the words of Katy Perry. ‘You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine.” Emma’s on the journey.