Christine Jennings: Open Water Champion


BY MIKE WATKINS//Correspondent

Fighting a nasty, draining head cold, Christine Jennings persevered.
A week removed from winning her first Open Water National Championship (5K), Jennings made the trip to Mission Viejo, Calif., last weekend to compete in the Meet of Champions.
While some might have taken it easy after swimming 15K (she won silver in the 10K), Jennings went with a full schedule – cold and all.
Because she intends to swim in the pool as well as open water this summer (she will compete at the 6th Annual FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships July 17 in Canada as well as at ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships in August), last weekend's meet was her opportunity to test her mettle and resolve as she continues to prepare for both.
"I was out here training with Coach (Bill) Rose, so I figured this was a great opportunity to go from open water to pool to see where I am in my training and how I size up against my competition," Jennings said. "Overall, I was very pleased with my performance. It was a great experience – just what I was wanting."
Jennings' long weekend did result in indicative performances of where she is in her pool swimming. She finished third in the 400 freestyle, fifth in both the 800 free and mile, ninth in the 200 free and 16th in the 100 free, proving her tremendous dedication and training are on track.
"All my training has put me in really good shape, and my Open Water swimming is translating into success in the pool," said Jennings, who was an All-American at the University of Minnesota when she graduated in 2009. "I got dizzy during the mile, and that affected my race, but that was mostly because of this cold. I'm really glad I did the meet after open water the weekend before."
While she enjoys her pool time, it's open water competition that motivates Jennings in the sport.
And considering a rather rocky – and painful – first couple of times competing in open water in 2007, it's surprising she continues to compete today.
Her first experiences taught her a great deal about herself as a swimmer and competitor, along with Open Water preparation and strategy, that she uses to her full advantage when she competes now.
"I was pretty unprepared for those first few races – no gel on my back, I didn't eat enough or right before the start of the race, poor race strategy – and then, on top of that, I got pushed under the water at the start of a race by two other swimmers and never really recovered," said Jennings, who said she prefers open water versus pool because she "sucks at turns" and likes the open air.
"That was in just my third-ever open water race, but I learned a lot, and haven't made the same mistakes since. I have been slapped and kicked, but it's all part of getting in position to be competitive. I really like playing with the different strategies in open water, too."
Instead of panicking or getting discouraged by those early experiences, Jennings said it fueled her desire and passion to want to get right back in the water and compete.
While she's had her share of underwater encounters with sea creatures: jellyfish, fish, even swimming headfirst into a dolphin, Jennings knows it's all part of the game – a game she has grown to love and appreciate.
"I remember during a race in Colorado Springs, Eva (Fabian) and I started freaking out because we ended up with all of these little fish getting into our swim suits. That was worse than any encounter with a jellyfish," Jennings said with a laugh.
Having recently completed an internship with PBS in Denver, Jennings' focus the rest of this summer is on her swimming. As someone who believes deeply and relies heavily on her Christian faith, she always credits God before, during and after her races.
During the 5K at this year’s Open Water Nationals, she found herself in second place early in the race, and said it was her faith in a higher power that spurred her to the first-place finish.
"That was all God out there, not me," Jennings said. "I still had a lot of confidence from the previous day (her silver in the 10K), but I know, when I started getting tired in the 5K, it was God that was pushing me forward. Christianity is a big part of my life, and I rely heavily on my faith during my swimming, and my life in general."
With Open Water Worlds still a few weeks away, Jennings is excited to get in the water and prove herself among the best in the world.
"I am ready to take it out and do a really good 10K," said Jennings, who finished second to Chloe Sutton by less than 2 seconds at Open Water Nationals. "I like this longer race because it allows more time to plan and strategize, and it's not so frenzied like the 5K. It's also not as physical at the started of the race because everyone knows they have more time to catch up if they fall behind. I can't wait."