By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
A look at Christine Jennings’ USA Swimming biography reveals a trunk full of accomplishments.
A U.S. Open Water Championship in 2013; a gold medal at the 2010 Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships; and strong showings at 2010, 2011 and 2013 Open Water World Championships – all telling the story of how she is and has been one of the best open water competitors in the world for many years.
But there’s also a glaring void on her swimming resume – one event she fears, based on the lingering effects of a traumatic injury incurred in 2012, she may never experience.
“I still don’t have the Olympics to look back on, and because of that, my career feels somewhat incomplete,” said Jennings, who lives and trains in Boulder, Colo. “I really thought 2012 was going to be my year to accomplish that, but it didn’t happen.”
Following a strong season – headlined by third-place finishes in both the 5 and 10K events at Open Water Nationals – Jennings was primed to make a final run at an Olympic berth (top two at Nationals automatically qualify for the Games) at a future qualifying meet.
Then, tragedy struck.
Leading the pack as she emerged from the water, Jennings suffered a freak broken leg while running toward the finish line at the Rej e Rainha do Mar Open Water race on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro (site of the 2016 Olympics) – and her life and career haven’t been the same since.
“It was so bizarre. I was only a few feet away from the finish line, and my leg just snapped in half,” Jennings said. “I remember the waves coming in under my feet, and my leg sinking into the sand, and then the hyperextension and break.
“I screamed bloody murder and grabbed my leg because I knew right away that it was a fracture, but the paramedic pulled my leg straight thinking it was just a sprain. I knew that was the wrong thing to do. I wondered at that point if I’d compete again.”
Jennings rehabbed her injury, waiting for the break to heal, but competed at 2012 Olympic Trials anyway at less than 100 percent. Her last shot to make her first Olympic Team proved unsuccessful, and she spent the remainder of the year allowing her leg to heal and strengthen.
The early part of 2013 proved auspicious when Jennings won her first Open Water National Championship in the 10K, and the year looked very promising. She won the 19-kilometer BCT Gdynia Marathon competition in Poland and the 2013 Faros Marathon in Croatia, setting a course record in the process.
But the entire year, something never felt quite right with her leg, so she had surgery two months ago to correct some problems – and after what was supposed to be a six-week recovery, she still isn’t fully healed.
“I took a step back in October last year and knew something was still wrong,” Jennings said. “My leg still doesn’t feel 100 percent, but my doctors said sometimes these injuries take longer to heal, so I’m being patient.
“Open Water Nationals aren’t until June this year (instead of April), so I still have time to recuperate. Pan Pacific Championships are later this year, and I want to be in the best possible shape to make that team.”
Still, considering how long the injury is taking to heal this time around, Jennings said she has doubts about her future as a competitive swimmer.
Her faith in God and the plan that he has set before her the past couple of years, however, have opened new light on the fact that she knows there is and will be life after swimming.
“I know it will get better, but it’s just taking longer than I wanted and that’s setting me back in my swimming and training, especially in my kicking,” Jennings said. “For the majority of my career, swimming has been the most important thing, but the past couple of years have taught me that swimming is not all there is in my life.
“But 2013 was an amazing year for me, and I keep hoping something bigger is coming. God has challenges and rewards planned for all of us, and I know now that what I went through was meant to teach me something about myself and my swimming career.”
In the meantime, Jennings continues to wait – wait for more signs from God while relying on her faith to lead her in the right direction.
“I know without my faith, I would have been finished with swimming after what happened in 2012, but I put my trust in him, and I feel like I’m back on the right path,” Jennings said. “Barring some kind of future setback, I plan to be right there in 2016 swimming for the Rio Olympics. I’ve been tested, and now I am ready for whatever happens moving forward.”