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Meet Walnut Creek Aquanuts Coach Kim Probst

A lifetime of synchronized swimming excellence has prepared the head coach for the club’s 50th anniversary extravaganza.


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“I’ve always been competitive and welcomed a challenge,” says former Olympian Kim Probst.

Kim Probst still remembers the moment she knew she wanted to be an Olympian. From her home in Troy, New York, she watched in awe as twin sisters Karen and Sarah Josephson—who’d trained in Walnut Creek—won gold medals in the synchronized swimming duet event at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

“I thought, I have to do that,” recalls Probst, who was 11 at the time. “From then on, I really wanted to go to the Olympics.”

While that’s a lofty goal for most athletes, Probst’s championship instincts run deep. She played several sports from a young age, but at six years old she fell in love with synchronized swimming and never looked back. She was drawn to the physicality of the sport, which requires swimmers to gracefully perform difficult, dynamic movements without touching the bottom of the pool.

“I enjoyed feeling like it was the hardest sport in the world,” Probst says. “There was something inside of me that loved the daily grind.”

Probst spent her last two years of high school commuting to Connecticut, where she honed her skills with a large synchronized swimming club. Her passion, talent, and motivation earned her a spot on the U.S. Junior National Team—and caught the attention of Walnut Creek Aquanuts coach Gail Pucci. Fresh out of high school, Probst moved to the same East Bay city that sparked her Olympic aspiration and joined the world-renowned team to pursue her goal.

Over the next nine years, Probst worked with vigor, training for 10-plus hours a day and competing—and placing—at major tournaments, including the FINA World Championships, U.S. National Championships, and Pan American Games. Finally, in 2008, Probst realized her dream: She competed in the Beijing Summer Olympics. At age 27, she was the U.S. Olympic synchronized swim team’s oldest member and a cocaptain.

The Aquanuts offer all levels of training to athletes ages 6 to 18.

Though the team didn’t bring home any medals that year, Probst is still grateful for the experience—​and says it left her feeling hungry for a new challenge: coaching the Aquanuts. “[The Aquanuts’ then-coach] Tammy McGregor told me she wanted a break,” Probst recalls, “and I said, ‘I want the club.’”

Since taking the reins in 2008, Probst has led the Aquanuts to multiple medals and victories at various high-level national and international tournaments (not to mention an appearance on America’s Got Talent). In June, the Aquanuts won seven gold medals at the U.S. Junior Olympics.

Aside from overseeing the elite club—which boasts roughly 100 members (even more in the summer months) and 15 coaches—and training the competition team for up to 26 hours a week, Probst organizes the Aquanuts’ annual events, including the iconic fall swim show. This year’s performance promises to be bigger and better than ever, for a special reason: 2018 marks the Aquanuts’ 50th anniversary.

For the commemorative event, Probst choreographed intricate, action-packed routines—featuring gravity-defying moves, dramatic lighting, glittering costumes, and a deluxe stage—that highlight the club’s history. Putting together the multifaceted spectacle has required a significant amount of work from the swimmers, coaches, and parent volunteers, but collaborating with the team is one of the things Probst enjoys most about her job.

“Every day I feel lucky and excited to be here,” she says. “I love synchro and want to continue raising the bar and pushing the boundaries.”

The Walnut Creek Aquanuts’ fall swim show, Reflecting on 50 Years of Excellence, takes place at Clarke Memorial Swim Center August 30–​September 2. For tickets or more information, visit aquanuts.org.

 

Notable ’Nuts

As one of the best synchronized swimming clubs in the country, the Walnut Creek Aquanuts have numerous noteworthy alumni.

Gail Emery: The first Aquanut and cofounder of the club, she became a U.S. national champion in 1972 and performed with a demonstration team at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. She also coached the Olympic team in 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000.

Karen and Sarah Josephson: The twin sisters earned silver medals in the women’s duet at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and won gold medals in the same event at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

Kristen Babb-Sprague: She won a gold medal in the women’s solo event at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

Tammy Cleland-McGregor, Heather Pease-Olson, Jill Savery, Nathalie Schneyder Bartleson, and Margot Thien Mullin: At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, they (along with other members of Team USA) made history by winning the first Olympic gold medal awarded to a synchronized swimming team—and they did it by scoring perfect 10s.

Erin Dobratz, Becky Jasontek, and Tammy Crow: The trio—and the rest of their team—took home bronze medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

Kate Hooven, Becky Kim, Annabelle Orme, Jillian Penner: At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, four fellow Aquanuts competed alongside Probst.

Mariya Koroleva: The two-time Olympian teamed up with Mary Killman (from the Santa Clara Aquamaids) for the synchronized swimming duet event at the 2012 Olympics in London, then represented Team USA again at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

Stephanie Joukoff: Intel’s director of Olympic marketing, the former Aquanut oversaw the implementation of Intel drones for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

 

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