My parents dropped me off on the Florida State University campus for the first time in the Fall of 1977. It was the following year I tried out for and joined, The Tarpon Club--a group of young women who donned swim suits and nose clips and dove into the water in the fabulous indoor pool at Montgomery Gym. Performances of The Tarpon Club involved music--both above and beneath the water--stage lighting and costumes. Audiences sat on bleachers above the pool for the best view. I had a blast and enjoyed pushing myself to hold my breath underwater while swimming the full distance of a large pool underwater. Most of the other moves weren't for the faint of heart, either. Try lying on your back and holding BOTH legs perpendicular to your body. Yeah. Not easy.
The heaters mounted on the walls around the pool would blast on cold days in an attempt to heat the frigid air in the mid-1920s building. We'd change from our warm clothing to swimsuits and walk as fast as we could across the tile to get into the heated pool. The smell of old building and chlorine clung to all of us by the end of practice when we hauled ourselves out of the pool, eyes red from opening them underwater as we practiced our routines.
I had no idea how long the group had been in existence, I just liked the idea of jumping in the water and performing. Now, I hadn't been a couch potato as a kid, but the amount of athleticism required for this sport was way above anything I had attempted to that point. (Except, of course, the swim out into the ocean off of Juno Beach to earn my senior lifesaving certificate. In the years after Jaws, the movie, it was awfully scary.)
I only performed with the Tarpon Club one year, long enough to graduate from "Minnow," the term used for first year swimmers, to a full-fledged Tarpon with a silver pin to prove it. The show I swam in was "Say It In a Word." They re-used that title a decade or so later, although, I'm not sure if it had the same routines. One year really wasn't enough, but there were too many choices of things to do in college and I ended up heading in a different direction and with a finite amount of time for extracurricular activities and sigh, studying, I left the group.
The Tarpon Club started when Florida State was still Florida State College for Women in the 1920s. Originally, the Life Saving Corp, the group evolved into The Tarpon Club in 1937 as the swimming demonstrations grew into performances. Tarpons performed in movies that were nationally aired. Members went on to swim with Esther Williams, famous for her swimming movies. And members became Weekee Wachee Mermaids, the dream career for thousands of little girls in Florida. The Tarpons won national awards and continued shows and competition until the group disbanded in 1994.
Alums met in 2002 to celebrate the decades of swimming in Montgomery Gym pool. It was the last time, the pool would be open for a performance of any kind. In 2004, the old swimming pool was converted into a theater for the dance department.
I may have been an active member of The Tarpon Club for one year, but I can tell you it was an honor to swim in the Montgomery Gym pool and an honor to be included as part of an organization that existed on the FSU campus decades before synchronized swimming became an Olympic sport.
I found this documentary on The Florida State University Web site. If you've got the time, watch it all the way through to see exactly what this group was about. And yeah, there are a couple glimpses of me in the pool, but I bet you can't spot me!
The Tarpon Club Traditions from FSCW to FSU (April, 2002)