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The Nesbitts: the Mannings of synchronized swimming

Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning. Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. Any sports fan could tell what these men are known for and why they’re important.

But what about the family dynasties that aren’t household names?

Ohio State junior Barbara Nesbitt has been a synchronized swimmer for 12 years, but the sport has been in her family since before she was born. Nesbitt, her mother Sue and her sister Stephanie make up one of the sport’s rare family dynasties, one that is as important to synchro as the Mannings are to football.

Ohio State junior Barnara Nesbitt performs during the Feb. 7 Jessica Beck Memorial Meet. OSU hosted and won the competition. Photo by Christian Lautenschleger.CHRISTIAN LAUTENSCHLEGER/THE LANTERNOhio State junior Barnara Nesbitt performs during the Feb. 7 Jessica Beck Memorial Meet. OSU hosted and won the competition.
Sue Nesbitt is a two-time world and national champion. Since her championship days, she has coached the Riverside Aquettes, a club team in Riverside, Calif., which has produced numerous Olympic athletes.

Because of her championship status, one might expect her daughters to join the sport, no questions asked. But Sue Nesbitt made sure they had options.

“I tried to not pressure them in any way into the sport,” she said. “It was their decision to swim each season and we tried to not talk about synchro at home. I would hope that my success inspired them to know that anything was possible, but one of my fears was that they would feel like they had to ‘live up’ to what I accomplished.”

Barbara NesbittBarbara Nesbitt
After exploring activities from art to dance, the Nesbitt daughters decided synchronized swimming is where they belong. Since then, each has recorded accomplishments that are revered in the sport.

Stephanie Nesbitt lived the ultimate synchro dream by making the 2004 Olympic team and winning a bronze medal for the team competition in Athens. While the milestone was remarkable, Barbara and Sue say it was difficult for her to be away from home for such a long period of time, a fact that Barbara takes into consideration when thinking about trying out for the 2012 team.

“I used to want to go to the Olympics, but that was my goal for 2008,” she said. “Some days I want to go to the 2012 Olympics but it all depends on the situation.”

In her third year at OSU, Barbara has been a significant asset to the Buckeyes. She placed third in the U.S. National Team Trial last month and has won every solo event since. She is also part of the Scarlet squad, which has yet to lose a team competition.

Though Barbara is now confident in her love for synchro, she wasn’t always so sure it was the path she wanted to take.

In 2003, she competed in the Junior National Championships and shocked the competition. At the age of 15, she became the youngest swimmer to win the solo event. After her win, Barbara was happy, but said her heart wasn’t fulfilled.

“I knew I had to find my passion in sports somewhere else,” she said.

When Barbara made the decision to leave synchronized swimming, it was difficult for Sue, who said she felt Barb still had so much to accomplish in the sport.

“I was very sad,” Sue Nesbitt said. “I took two weeks to feel bad about what the sport would miss and what I would miss by not seeing her swim.”

In her time away from the sport, Barbara played water polo and swam for her high school’s swim team. A year later, she watched her sister compete in the Olympics, which became an inspiration for her to go back to synchronized swimming. She said she realized that she missed being great at something.

“I was an OK student, an OK water polo player, an OK swimmer, but I missed being an outstanding synchronized swimmer,” she said. “Thank goodness I had parents who trusted my decisions and my heart; if I would not have had that precious time to really find my love for synchro, I would not be the swimmer I am today.”

Barbara admits that returning to the sport was a bit of a struggle, but said she became better than when she had quit.

Since then, she has added many shining moments to the Nesbitt legacy.

Barbara has competed in numerous Senior National Championships and helped the Buckeyes take first place in the team competition at last year’s Collegiate National Championships, one of her most memorable moments.

“I have never seen so much excitement at a synchro meet ever,” she said. “The best part about it was everyone was cheering for us and we ended up winning team by almost two points.”

Before she graduates, Barbara would like to win the solo, duet, trio and elements events in the competition.

Though her motivation comes from within, she cites Stephanie as her biggest inspiration in the sport.

“She helped me learn that it’s better to train as hard as you can, swim your butt off and get beat by someone who everyone knows is not as good as you,” she said.

Their mother said she feels that each of them have unique accomplishments that showcase who they are as swimmers.

“For Stephanie, the completion of the ’04 games with a Bronze medal was very memorable, mainly because of what she accomplished and endured as an athlete,” Sue said. “For Barbara, each time she swims is a favorite moment because she has passion for the sport; as a coach, I know how rare that is.”

Though Sue does not get to watch Barbara compete as often as she’d like, she knows her daughter competes with heart and has big dreams ahead.

“I could definitely see myself on the 2012 Olympic team, but my goals depend on the day,” Barbara said. “I would also like to be the head coach of Ohio State synchro when Linda retires, and hopefully be an Olympic coach one day.”

Sue has no doubt her daughter can make it on the 2012 team, but will support her in whatever she chooses.

“I learned a long time ago to let my children have their own dreams and for me to be their support,” she said. “I want everything to be her decision and for her to take advantage of the wonderful opportunity she has here at The Ohio State University.”


Margaret Stahl can be reached at stahl.104@osu.edu.

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