This article is part of a running series The Daily’s Sports staff will be publishing on seniors.
When she was in first grade, now fifth-year Jacklyn Luu and her brothers were swimming in the local pools of the Bay Area when she witnessed synchronized swimmers practicing right beside them. This chance encounter led Luu to compete in various national and international synchronized swimming competitions before coming to Stanford. Now, a fifth-year studying psychology and biomedical informatics, Luu looks to build on her storied success in and out of the pool. The Daily’s Jordan John Lee spoke with Luu about her journey and future in artistic swimming (formerly known as synchronized swimming) with Team USA and Stanford. They discussed the challenges she and the team faced when competing for their first national title in five years and simultaneously navigating the uncertainty of upholding artistic swimming as a varsity sport at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): How did you first get involved in artistic swimming, especially growing up in the Bay Area where water seems to be heavily present?
Jacklyn Luu (JL): I come from a water-loving family. I remember my parents would always take me to Raging Waters in San Jose, the beach or local pools, so we were always very accustomed and comfortable with water. When I was in first grade, I joined the local swim team with my brothers. It just so happened that at the pool that we were practicing, there was a synchronized swimming team practicing in the pool adjacent to us. I saw them and confidently thought that I could definitely do that — it looked so fun. And so I tried it out, and I’ve stayed with it ever since. I continued doing synchronized swimming through middle and high school, and I was on a couple different national teams growing up.
TSD: Among the five collegiate teams that have artistic swimming as a varsity sport, what made Stanford the right decision for you in terms of your personal, academic and athletic goals?
JL: That’s such a big question. In terms of artistic swimming, I wanted to be a part of the best team out there, and Stanford was that for me. The team had a lot of members who were also national team members and came from my club. It was really being able to compete and grow at a very competitive level. In terms of academics, what made Stanford the one was being able to explore all the different things that I was interested in because in high school, I was really focused on doing synchronized swimming and being the best athlete I could be. I didn’t realize I wanted to major in psychology until I took Psych 80, which was in my sophomore spring. I have always been interested in neuroscience, so I think psychology was a good program for me. I could learn about the neurological and biological aspects of neuroscience while understanding higher levels of interpersonal interaction and things like that. Also, the professors were really nice and supportive. Being able to explore and have that freedom was really important to me.
TSD: You mentioned in an interview last year with The Daily that artistic swimming had one goal of capturing a national championship. Can you put into words how hard you and the team worked towards this goal that happened a month later?
JL: There were so many different things we were feeling at this time. First off, we had to grapple with the synchronized swimming team almost being cut. Upon hearing the news, it was really just devastating for the entire team as well as myself. I think everyone who has been in the program and everyone who has graduated can, without a doubt, say that being a part of the Stanford synchronized swimming team was truly special. And so everyone on the team came together into Collegiate nationals, thinking that this would be the last time we would ever swim as a varsity team. In that sense, there was an emotional weight to competing at nationals. We also had been really close to national titles during my freshman and sophomore years, so I definitely did not want to leave Stanford without being able to earn that title. I was super motivated to be able to leave that legacy for our team. Also, I think the actual competition was quite special for me because we competed in our home pool. Then, Stanford Athletics expanded the spectator guidelines, and having all of my family there, as well as all of my friends from Stanford, was a really, really special moment to be able to swim thinking this would be my last time doing synchronized swimming there.
TSD: Despite COVID-19, 2021 was a breakthrough season for you: you won three national titles, one with your team and the other two in the solo and duet events. Describe what these accomplishments meant to you, especially since you achieved them later on in your collegiate career.
JL: Being able to win a title with the team was a really special moment because we had all worked so hard and pushed through so many different challenges. With COVID and virtual meets, it was so rewarding because it meant that everything that had happened to us was supposed to happen. I think even if we had not won the title, we were so proud of our work ethic and how we persevered through the year, day in and day out. Especially during the pandemic, we were very resilient in working together. For me, I think winning individual titles was really really cool. It was icing on the cake because I know I invested a lot of time into perfecting this craft and perfecting all these different skills, so being able to win an individual title was really cool for me.
TSD: Why did you want to stay at Stanford for your fifth year, academically and athletically?
JL: I mentioned I had majored in psychology because I had always been fond of the brain and neuroscience. Actually, that same quarter, I also took CS 106A, and this class entices you into computer science. I was enticed by how cool it was that I could actually build these programs that could do really interesting things. And so, I dabbled a little bit and took more CS classes. Then, I realized that the actual application of using computer science to address problems in health was very interesting to me. Because I took my time in taking these CS classes, I realized that a co-term in Biomedical Informatics would be fitting for me because I could expand on those technical skills that I dabbled in and really hone in on them after finishing my undergrad. Our team goal is to win a back-to-back national championship, and I think it takes every single person on the team day in and day out at practice to be able to do that. I’m really excited for our season, and I really want to prove that we can do it again and show our routines that are interesting and creative, but also really strong.
TSD: After graduating from Stanford, do you have any plans to continue with artistic swimming? Are there any endeavors you are planning to pursue?
JL: I don’t know if I will continue to do synchronized swimming with the national team. That’s still a decision waiting in my mind. At the same time, I’m also looking at different jobs in data science or medical informatics, trying to use those technical skills and applying them to problems in health. Hopefully, I see myself in a career where I can be at the intersection of technology and health. In terms of what I’ll actually be doing, that is to be determined.
This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.