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ELMIRA, NY (CAP) - Part pollock, part Polack, was how Edna Jamanski's father Tom affectionately referred to her growing up. A plucky little pale toddler, Edna Jamanski took to the water like a fish to a deep fryer. At eight she was consistently racking up swimming awards at school and camp competitions. By ten she was setting national records for holding her breath under water. Then her life completely changed in 2005, when on her 15th birthday, her parents took her to see her first synchronized swimming meet. She was instantly hooked.
"I had just started coaching a new team out of Binghamton at that point, and I remember the moment I met Edna quite well," says Susan Jackson, Edna Jamanski's former coach and mentor. "She bent my ear for the better part of two hours after that meet, and I eventually relented and agreed to see what she could do in the water. I've never seen such raw talent before, particularly in someone so young. It was simply amazing!"
Coach Jackson started working with the eager teen after school, and Jamanski quickly improved to the point where she toured, and eventually came to lead, Coach Jamanski's synchronized swimming squad, the Womanitees.
"It was an exciting two years of my life," Edna Jamanski recalls. "People don't realize how huge synchronized swimming really is. It's like curling or rodeo, just wildly popular, but the press never covers it, so people assume it's just an Olympic oddity.
"When your head is underwater though, and you can still hear the thunderous cheers of the crowds, you know: this is no oddity," Jamanski says.
As Jamanski and the Womanitees hopped from public pool to public pool on the US Sync-Swim circuit, her skills as a competitor kept pace with the growing enthusiasm of the crowds. By the time the Womanitees arrived back in Binghamton this past February to compete in the Olympic trials, most insiders assumed Edna Jamanski was a shoe-in to make the Olympic squad and a solid bet to lead it to gold.
"Edna was at the top of her swim, and coming home to the hometown crowd at the Aquatic Center to compete for a chance to go to the Olympics, well, it was just a perfect time," says Tom Jamanski through the tears. "It made the disappointment all the more difficult to bear."
Edna Jamanski's "agony of defeat" moment came 37 seconds into her group's freestyle routine. Unbeknownst to her teammates, Jamanski had been suffering through an incontinence problem, a hereditary condition that had first reared its head several months previous. Jamanski's condition was seemingly tailor-made for her sport though, so it had not really created a problem. Until that day in Binghamton.
"The girls were going through their routine, Chopin's Ocean Etude Opus 25 No. 12 struggling to rise above the cheering crowd, when all of a sudden the pool started turning a bright, bright red," Coach Jackson says. "I know it's crazy, but my first thought was Shark attack! How can we work it into the routine? But nope, it was just Edna, executing a flawless spin and pissing in the pool."
Officials would later blame the presence of trace elements of an anti-corrosive, diethyl-ethanolamine, for the unique urine-marking effect. While peeing in the pool is not strictly prohibited by the USA Synchronized Swimming Association, it created enough of a stigma that Edna was not invited to the rescheduled trials held a week later in Albany. Edna Jamanski was out of Olympic contention, and out of the sport entirely a short time later.
"It was horrible. Everyone started calling me Redna, and no one wanted to swim with me," Jamanski says. "I eventually had to quit. People can be so cruel, but I'm moving on."
When life handed Edna Jamanski lemons, she made lemonade. The plucky teenager is currently a guest lecturer for the urinary incontinence group Go-Anon, and even has plans to re-enter the water someday with her own aquatic version of The Vagina Monologues. She's even managed to put her crushed Olympic dreams in perspective.
"Gold is nice, sure, but it's so fleeting," Jamanski advises. "Make your own gold every day, and you won't go wrong."
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