I first met Ethan Calleja at Curtin University during a “Design My Life” program. When looking for people to interview, I thought Ethan’s story would be an interesting one to share. This blog often talks about horse racing, a once very male dominated sport. Ethan, on the other hand, is a male in the female dominated sport of synchronised swimming.
Ethan is a trail blazer; being only one of two male synchronised swimmers in Australia. When he’s not training hard and working towards his goal of going to the Olympics, he’s studying or hanging out with friends.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
Hey, so my name is Ethan Calleja, I am 20 years old and I’m studying a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Management at Curtin. Sport has always been a part of my life and I have been so fortunate to be able to have a 15-year competitive career in sport spanning over two sports and trying out so many more throughout school. I grew up in the water, being one of those little toddlers in those swim classes that just loved splashing about. This was the beginning of my love for swimming in which I took all across Australia and had a successful journey which I loved so much about.
How did you get into synchronised swimming?
I was at the end of my career with swimming and finishing my secondary education and I was looking to move on with life and experience new thigs beyond just my sport. At that time, I was actually coaching Synchronised Swimming as I had previous experience with swim coaching, and many years of working with kids. I had tried out synchro, not to get into the sport, but to help me get better at coaching, by learning basic under 12-year-old skills, that I could translate better into coaching. Anyway, after retiring from swimming, I had about a 6 week break over the summer just relaxing, working and keeping busy and I got a call from my State coaching director who was also the head coach of the high performance program in WA, and she asked to meet the next day, without telling me what it was about! She practically talked about the impact of men in the sport and how I could possibly be the first male to represent Australia in synchronised swimming, in which later happened
What’s people’s first reaction when they hear you’re a synchronised swimmer?
I think most of the reactions are surprise, not only for me as a male, but because its quite a unique sport for females too. I mean I have received some unfavourable reactions from people over time, but all the people who know me well, know the reasons for why I’m doing it, and are so supportive for it. Australian culture, especially in terms of sport is very traditional with many ball/team sports and often this opposition for more artistic sports can often change people’s perceptions of who you are as a person. I was actually approached by some film students last year who wanted to document part of my journey and aim to combat this idea by bringing awareness to the sport with men.
It’s very much a female dominated sport (you’re actually only one of two male synchronised swimmers in Australia). Why do you think men aren’t attracted to the sport?
Well I think like many artistic sports such as gymnastics, ballet and diving, which are often perceived as feminine, that every man who does these sports, must not be in blatant terms a heterosexual guy, which is definitely not the case. Sports like gymnastics and diving have a rich history of male participation, but over time have been pushed out over time as society may not see them as masculine. Synchro is no different, there was a rich history in the founding of the sport that involved men, and much like these other sports require some of the strongest and most powerful athletes in the world. I also think the limited size of the sport not only in Australia, but around the world compared to other sports can limit many guys from wanting to start as it isn’t the most easy path to pave the way for others especially in an unfunded sport.
What does an average training/competing week look like for you?
We normally have 6 sessions a week, of which each session consists of an hour stretching and dynamic strength, and hour of swimming, then 2 hours of synchro workouts, which may be routine practice or skill-based training. We also have 3 gym session on top of this, and 1-2 ballet/gymnastic sessions that are designed for flexibility. Prior to each competition and throughout the season we have a camp that will run for about two weeks and we train in 6-day stints, in which we are often in the water for 6 hours each day.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Not only am I so proud and happy about being the first male to represent Australia in synchronised swimming, but I also made my international debut. I had the great honour to qualify, compete and final at a world championship, now ranking within the top 12 men in the world.
Mixed duets are also not recognised as an Olympic sport (in fact the rest of your team was trying out for the Olympics when we met). Have they given a reason why?
So yes, mixed duets are not yet in the Olympic games. Currently there are only the team events (Technical and Free routine) which consists of 8 females, and the female duet events, in which Australia has qualified athletes in both events. As of now, there has been no formal indication or reason why men/mixed duets cannot participate in the Olympic games, however I suggest this is ultimately due to the limited amount of men who compete internationally around the world. In the eyes of the IOC (International Olympic Committee), the mixed duets may not be as competitive as many other sports, and to create new sports at the Olympics requires more impact than just synchro. We have been very fortunate as in 2015, FINA the governing body of all aquatic sports around the world introduced mixed duets into the world championships, which means we are taking small steps to this ultimate goal.
For those looking to get into synchronised swimming, especially males, what would you suggest?
Well I think the easiest answer is to give it a try! There are two clubs here in Perth, in which I coach at one of them, where we run recreational and competitive programs for any athlete to join. There are also clubs around Australia that I am working with to work out plans to give access/support for men if they would like to join the sport. OR you can come message me and I would always love to chat!
You’re also studying a Bachelor of Commerce, so what do like to do in your free time outside of swimming and university?
With my very limited time between sport, study and work to pay for it all, I often try spend time with friends, going out for coffee and spending time at home researching new things about my sport and random things.
What would you love to achieve in the next 5-10 years?
Well first goal will hopefully compete at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris if it becomes an event and ultimately finish my career in a good way. I also love sports management, so I hopefully will be doing a postgraduate certificate after my bachelors and work within organisations and industries much like the Olympics!