With Olympic fever burning high, it's no wonder 15-year-old Gillian Brassil has her eye on getting the gold in 2016 -- but it's a marvel to learn that she and her father moved across the country to reach for it.
The new-to-Moraga resident moved from Andover, Mass. to train with the Walnut Creek Aquanuts, one of the country's top synchronized swimming programs.
"I started by talking to coaches in New England," Gillian explains. "Most of the best teams are on the West Coast, and Walnut Creek was the leader because the Olympians who came from here now coach here."
Indeed, Aquanuts swimmers have participated in every Olympiad from 1984 on, producing eight champions, many of whom return to join the coaching staff.
The team of Aquanut Mariya Koroleva, a 22-year-old Concord resident, and Mary Killman of Santa Clara finished in 11th place in the 2012 synchronized swimming duet competition in London Aug. 7.
On a recent flight to San Francisco, the Aquanuts were cheered by a load of passengers, after the flight attendant announced their overwhelming victories at the 2012 eSynchro Age Group National Championships at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
The Aquanuts placed third in the age 11-12 Team Finals, fifth in the 11-12 Duet Finals and sweeping first in the 13-15 Solo, Duet, Trio, and Team Finals.
"I'm so excited to let people at home know of the young champions right in their backyards," coach Alandi Stec-Neifert said.
Heather Tiernan, coach of the 13-to-15 age group, credits Gillian and her duet partner, 14-year-old Jasmine "Jazzy" Carrillo, with raising the bar for the entire team.
"Having such technically advanced swimmers pushed the team to keep improving," Tiernan writes in an email.
Admitting that she "loves them" and "can't stand them" -- and has equally mixed feelings about them "turning into teenagers" -- Tiernan says she was "blown away" by how well the swimmers performed this year.
Once again, the younger crowd is more mellow, with Gillian saying she just tried to "stay in the moment" during the solo competition and Jasmine reporting that "the duet (team) that got second was always on our tails but it just pushed us to do even better."
That push to improve marks every step it took for Gillian to relocate to Moraga with her father Tom, a retired firefighter His 2004 fall from the third story of a burning building eventually ended his career, but allowed him to accompany his daughter on her quest.
"It wasn't hard for me to decide to come," he laughs, "because I let my wife and kids make all the decisions. They told me a few weeks before we left that I was coming out here."
The West Coast Brassils have left behind the East Coast contingent, a wife/mother and 13-year old son/brother, but both say daily phone calls, FaceTime chats, and occasional visits will bridge the gap for the next four years.
Asked if there aren't strong training centers closer to home, they say the abundant pool time made possible by a forgiving climate makes California hard to beat.
During the weeks following the team's medal-winning appearance at Nationals, Gillian is training twice a day, totaling six to nine hours, for the Mediterranean Cup competition.
"I've definitely made progress this year," she says, "but I have a lot of trouble straightening my knees and sometimes I swim sharp, which is a good thing, but not if you want the motions to flow together."
Her teammate's assessment is more generous.
"Gillian has the highest vertical height in the club, and she swims with so much power and strength, it makes her look older," Jasmine says. "Which is better, because you don't want to look 11 swimming against a 15-year-old."
The two athletes share great vertical height, the ability to hold an upside-down, straight position while performing exquisite, ballet-like movements with the legs.
"Jazzy and I are very similar," Gillian says, "and she's just a lot of fun to swim with. She helps me fix things."
Her father, who grew up immersed in the knock-down world of football and hockey, is amazed at almost everything about the area.
"Out here, you have swimming pools like we have hockey rinks. And I was a Raider fan growing up, because Howie Long was from my town, but I like the 49ers, so I think it's great to have two teams for me to watch."
And while he's proud of his daughter's straight-As at Campolindo High School last year (his wife selected it as the best school during the secret planning sessions before their departure,) Tom Brassil reserves his highest praise for the Aquanuts.
"The girls on this team are like extra coaches: they all help each other," he claims. "They are truly what a team sport is all about."