By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, January 19, 2017Despite the millions of competitors across the globe, Christine Jennings recently discovered the world of swimming is very small.
Now living and working in Lausanne, Switzerland, for the past year, she’s run into teammates and friends in airports and at swim meets in the states and abroad – reminding her that swimmers and swimming are omnipresent.
“I attended my first meet here in Lausanne in December 2015 and ran into Michael Andrew, who I met at Pan Pacific Championships in 2014 when open water was moved to Maui,” she said. “I also ran into Jessica Hardy in the airport in Zurich as I was traveling home for Christmas. It's definitely a small world.”
What isn’t small are Jennings’ accomplishments in the water – open water in particular.
She finished fourth in the 10K at 2014 Open Water Nationals to earn a spot on the U.S. roster for the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships and finished sixth in the 25K and 10th in the 10K at the 2013 FINA World Championships.
During her career, Jennings also took top honors at the U.S. Open Water Championship in 2013, won gold at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships and won the 19-kilometer BCT Gdynia Marathon competition in Poland and Faros Marathon in Croatia in 2013, setting a course record in the process and proving she’s one of the best open water competitors in the world.
“I think 2013 U.S. Nationals was the best race of my life,” she said. “I was also in the best shape, and thanks to my coach, Grant Holicky, was in the right frame of mind going into that race. In Croatia, I held onto the men in the race and broke the record by a crazy 10 minutes or so. I was really proud of myself for that.”
Injuries – including a traumatic, freak broken leg in 2011 while running toward the finish line at the Rei e Rainha doMar Open Water race on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro – took their toll on her mentally and physically over the past few years and ultimately led to her retirement in late 2015.
Since then, she completed her Master’s degree in sports administration and started working at World Archery as a development coordinator. She works primarily on Olympic solidarity programs/projects for athletes, coaches and National Olympic Committees worldwide.
And even though she admitted a couple of years ago that she didn’t think her career would be complete without adding Olympian to her stellar resume, Jennings now realizes she accomplished a lot during her career and left it behind with a strong sense of pride.
“I am proud of many things in my career, but I think the fact that I never gave up is what I'm most proud of,” she said. “I didn't exactly know it was, per say, the right time or not (to retire). I didn't like the idea, but after so many injuries, I was exhausted and needed a break for my body and my mind. I felt led to explore different opportunities, and I wanted to work in an area where I could give back to sport.
“In my heart, I felt it was a huge opportunity, and I am so thankful I took that risk to go. I will be trying out some Swiss Master’s competitions this summer, as my love to compete and swim is still alive. I still swim, but nowhere near what I did before.”
Jennings’ path to world swimming success began when she was just 8 months old largely out of necessity and safety.
“We were in Hawaii, and I had just learned to run (before walking apparently), and I took off one time straight into a pool and another time into the ocean chasing after my brother,” she said. “I guess you could say I forced my parents to put me in lessons.”
Even as a youngster, Jennings said she was drawn to open water competition more than pool meets.
She competed in her first open water race (which is now named for her) in Clemson, S.C., and her second race was during her junior year at the University of Minnesota when she made her first World Championship team after coming back from shoulder surgery.
She immediately loved the challenge associated with swimming an “open,” free-for-all type of race that wasn’t confined to lane lines or walls.
“Open water is beautiful; it involves strategy, not only during your own race, but with everyone else,” she said. “It is constantly changing, and one never knows what can happen. It's pretty amazing.”
Very happy with her life today away from the sport, Jennings said she looks back on her career with no regrets, although she does wish she had made the Olympic team after coming close many times.
She admits for a while, she would question God about why this happened or why she got hurt or why she didn’t make a team when she trained really hard and felt more than prepared.
But over time, she said she realized each hardship, loss and disappointment ultimately strengthened her faith and gave her perspective about swimming and life that she continues to see today.
“It took some time to process the disappointment, but I never let it become who I am,” she said. “You know, we never remember how easy it was, but we always remember how we overcame those hard times. It's what shaped me as a person and has given me the strength to overcome no matter what I am faced with.
“I am enjoying life and my career is taking me on another amazing journey. Sometimes what we thought was our path we find out that God has something even better in store for us. I believe this is all in His plan and timing and I'm just enjoying it one step at a time. I am happy, and even though I don't know what the future holds, whatever it may be, I'm looking forward to it.”