If you head into the backyard of the Boales family home in Saratoga, be prepared to meet 15-year-old Raquel Boales' feet long before you see her face. That sort of thing happens a lot with synchronized swimmers who spend a good deal of their time in the pool inverted.
Boales picked up the sport at the age of 9, but her mother says her daughter first started swimming at a very, very early age. "Four months old," Tina Boales says.
The early start in the pool was on doctor's orders. Raquel was born with Erbs Palsey, a condition that severely limited her mobility and flexibility as a child.
"She couldn't raise both arms," Tina Boales says. "She'd fall over or she couldn't walk straight or she'd always kind of act like she was limping."
A major surgery at age 6 helped Raquel regain some ranger of motion. Her doctors said she could do sports, but only ones in the water. And water polo was out (to great a risk for injury).
When Tina Boales discovered synchronized swimming not long afterwards she signed Raquel up immediately. The sport turned out to be great for Raquel's recovery as well as her trophy case.
"The first season my daughter just, just went crazy. She won gold and silver medals," Tina Boales said. Still, as good and as passionate as Raquel was, her disability means high level international competition like the Olympics is out of reach.
It is a tough pill for Raquel and her mom to swallow.
"That's the hardest thing as a parent you'll ever be able to witness is when your child, regardless of who they are," Tina Boales said, "put their heart and soul into something, they excel but because they don't meet a criteria, they're told they can't do it."
Tina Boales knew how much her daughter loved synchronized swimming, so quitting the sport wasn't an option. Changing it was.
A few years ago, Tina Boales retired as a San Jose Police officer and began dedicating all her time, and most of her and her husband's money, to Synchronized Swimming For Athletes With Disabilities. She has been traveling the world encouraging other countries to organize similar programs so there will be enough competition to be accepted as a Paralympic sport.
Their goal is to be a part of the 2024 games. And for Raquel to be there.
Even if that doesn't happen, though, Tina Boales knows what she and Raquel are doing is helping hundreds, if not thousands, of other disabled children around the world.
"All the money I've spent out of my savings, which has a zero balance now, was worth it."