Artistic swimmers Ruby Remati and Megumi Field float in a pool, looking to the left, with a big splash of water in front of them.

Road to Paris: Megumi Field was born for the water

The 18-year-old artistic swimmer on her Olympic goals, swimming in a bubble, and balancing being an elite athlete with teenage life

From left, Ruby Remati and Megumi Field perform their duet routine together.

Alyssa Jacobs

Words by Samantha Pak

Road to Paris: The 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Paris are less than a year away, and athletes around the world are gearing up to go for the gold—including AA+PI athletes throughout the United States. Normally we’re all about shirking the unrealistic expectations put on our community to excel, but as we gear up for next year’s summer games, we are here to celebrate the outstanding AA+PI athletes getting ready to compete for their country. Read on to learn more about their road to Paris!

The last time Team USA competed in artistic swimming (formerly known as synchronized swimming) at the Olympics was 16 years ago, when Megumi Field was 2 years old.

She discovered the sport for herself three years later, quickly falling in love and dreaming of competing in the Olympics. And in February, the 18-year-old became one step closer to achieving her goal as part of the American team that competed in the world championships to qualify for the Olympics. But that doesn’t mean she’s automatically guaranteed a spot on the Olympic team. Field is among 12 women on USA Artistic Swimming’s national team who are vying for eight spots and one alternate spot to represent in Paris (the final decision comes down June 7). So you know, no pressure.

Field, who competes in the team as well as duet events, is originally from Wilmington, Delaware, and now lives in Orange County, California—where she and her family moved specifically so she could pursue her dreams in artistic swimming.

I recently spoke with the Stanford University-bound high school senior about how she discovered artistic swimming, balancing life as a teenager with Olympic dreams, and more.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Samantha Pak: How did you get started in artistic swimming? Did you do other sports growing up as well?
Megumi Field: I started off with swimming and I always loved the water from when I was 1. As long as I can remember, I've been in the water. At around 5 years old, I started doing dance and then ballet. I wanted to take that artistic side and have more to do in the water than just swimming laps. So we found a synchronized swimming program, actually in Pennsylvania.

SP: In the Olympics, it's called artistic swimming, but you just referred to it as synchronized swimming. Is there a difference?
MF: It was called synchronized swimming before. I think in 2017, it was changed to artistic swimming. But I feel like the whole synchro community who's been doing this since before still call it synchronized swimming.

SP: Swimming, ballet, those are more “mainstream” activities for kids. Synchronized swimming, that's a very niche activity. How did you even hear about it as a kid?
MF: My mom's from Japan and had seen Japan’s Olympic team on TV since it's more popular there. And when I showed so much love for the water, she asked me if I wanted to take a different route.

SP: When did you start to think, “I want to pursue this more seriously?”
MF: When I was younger, I was just doing it for fun, but after a year or two, I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics. After that I went to the pool by myself to train separately. Around 10 years old, I made my first national team (12 and under) and I wanted more, so I moved to LA to join a higher-level club. The first year was just my mom and I, and then the next year, my two sisters came, and then my dad came the following year.

Artistic swimmers Ruby Remati and Megumi Field float in a pool with their right arms in the ari.

From left, artistic swimming duet partners Ruby Remati and Megumi Field.

Alyssa Jacobs

SP: That's a pretty big move to make for a family. How did your sisters respond to not just moving, but being separated for a year?
MF: It was around the age of us fighting a lot and not getting along. [Laughs] So honestly, I think the distance made it better because when we were back together, suddenly we were a lot closer. I wasn't amazing (at the sport). There was no future that was definite. And so for my family to move out here, it's really crazy, and sometimes I ask my sisters, “Are you glad we moved out here? Do you wish you stayed in Delaware?” And they tell me that actually coming here changed their lives into a different path that they really love now.

SP: In Orange County, there's a decent-sized Asian population, and I don't know if you can say the same about Delaware. What was the cultural change like
MF: In Delaware, there are no Asian supermarkets or anything like that. When we first moved here, we discovered Daiso, and we just went crazy at all the Japanese supermarkets in the area. That was the biggest shock because in Delaware, we would drive two and a half hours to New Jersey to the nearest Japanese supermarket, once every six months, and stock up on everything. But here, you can just go whenever, and that was the most “Wow!” moment.

SP: How did you balance school with training? Because for the national team, it's a lot of hours, but you're also kids.
MF: I joined the national team full time and online school from ninth grade. So in elementary and middle school, there wasn't a ton of homework then, so I would bust out as much homework as possible during snack or lunch or anything like that. That way when I got back home, there was as little to do with school as possible since I would get home around 9:30 p.m.

It's very tiring to (do more schoolwork) afterwards, but it's also a sacrifice that I've decided to make to be better in this sport, for my future. So even if I'm tired, I'm like, “I'm training because I want to go to the Olympics. I'm doing school because I want to also go to college.”

Members of the USA Artistic Swimming national team celebrate together.

Megumi Field (right) and fellow members of the USA Artistic Swimming national team celebrate together.

Sarah Brenninkmeyer

SP: What is it about synchronized swimming that has caused you to stick with it? Because obviously, as you get older, things can change.
MF: I have to say there were many times when I wanted to quit—like any other athlete. But I think it’s definitely the people around me. All of them supporting me, and knowing how much they care, and how much they want me to succeed, really helped me through whatever tough times I was having.

SP: You compete in both duet, or pairs, and the team. Which do you prefer?
MF: With the team, especially this team, the amount of trust that we've created over the last two years is really one that I haven't experienced with any other team. It's definitely a connection that I'll have for the rest of my life. I'm not sure how to describe it, but whenever I'm nervous at competition, it's like, “Why are you nervous? You trust your teammates, you trust yourself, and they trust you. So it's fine.” That connection is really special, so I really love swimming with this team.

But also in the duet, it’s a really big honor since there's only two of you that can swim. And the connection with that one person is also very special as well. So I'm not sure if I prefer one or the other, just because they have different qualities. I really love both.

SP: I saw on your Instagram, the post of when you guys qualified as a team from a few weeks ago. What was it like to get that result and to learn that Team USA was going? It's been a few Olympics since USA has qualified—
MF: Yeah, since 2008. This past year, as a team, we've been focusing on, we call it our bubble, and staying in our bubble. Because a lot of times when you go to competition, nerves might get to you and you might perform better or worse. We just wanted consistency. So we've been working on staying within our bubble, going to those competitions and just staying within ourselves. I think doing that has helped us a lot this year.

We were in our bubble in Doha (Qatar), the qualifier meet. So just standing up there, hearing our score and knowing that we were going to make it—there was so much work going on behind the scenes for all of this—it just felt like, “Oh my god, I can't believe this is true.” I honestly didn't process what was happening until after I got back home. I went back home and I was like, “Oh, wow. We actually did that. We made history.”

I honestly didn't process what was happening until after I got back home. I went back home and I was like, “Oh, wow. We actually did that. We made history.”

SP: Congratulations! That's a pretty big deal! Obviously, you're still training to get a spot on the team. So how's training going?
MF: Recently our sport went through a rule change. And when we came back from Doha, we went through another rule change. So now we have been adjusting our routines to fit that new rule system.

SP: How are you feeling personally about all of this?
MF: It's definitely nerve-wracking because we're all very talented athletes. And as a team, we all work very hard. And so, really everyone deserves to go but you know, there are only nine spots.

SP: Looking at certain sports, there's not a lot of diversity, but synchronized swimming does look pretty diverse and you do have a good handful of Asian teammates. What has that been like?
MF: Within the whole international stage of synchronized swimming, we're the most diverse team. It's great. We talk about these cultural things that we do at home and it's like, “I'm celebrating Lunar New Year,” or, “I make paella, this Spanish dish.” Or just sharing those things that we do with our family during the holidays when we're together. It's just nice to hear about everyone's different backgrounds.

Artistic swimmer Megumi Field sits while teammate Daniella Ramirez does her makeup.

Daniella Ramirez (right) does Megumi Field's makeup before a competition.

Alyssa Jacobs

SP: I feel so old saying this, because you're still young, [Laughs] but have you been able to apply some of the things you’ve learned in synchronized swimming to other parts of your life?
MF: Yeah. You think about a lot of things at once. They say you can't multitask, but the amount of things I’m thinking about and doing at the same time, I feel like I'm quadruple-thousand tasking. So I think having that skill of being under a lot of stress, but still thinking about what it is I need to do to get it done has definitely carried over. The skill of staying level-headed and working through it definitely carried over. Also the time management since it is a lot of hours and there's still a lot more to do out of the pool.

SP: You've been doing this sport for 13 years. So what is your favorite part about synchronized swimming?
MF: The team connection is definitely up there and just knowing if one person had a bad day, we can all just immediately feel it and go in, try to support whatever that person may be going through, even if they haven't said anything out loud. We all know how we're feeling, and we all support each other as best as we can.

But I also love just going underwater and for warm-up, you swim a lap underwater, and just the peace there is within it. It's no noise. It's just you and your thoughts and you're staring up into the sun as you're swimming underwater, watching the water move. I think the peaceful moments within the sport are really beautiful.

Published on May 8, 2024

Words by Samantha Pak

Samantha Pak (she/her) is an award-winning Cambodian American journalist from the Seattle area and assistant editor for JoySauce. She spends more time than she’ll admit shopping for books than actually reading them, and has made it her mission to show others how amazing Southeast Asian people are. Follow her on Twitter at @iam_sammi and on Instagram at @sammi.pak.