Jennifer Parmenter surprised the swimming world during the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championship last March, winning the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys.
Some swimming critics called the Granada Hills teen-ager’s success a fluke, pointing to the fact most of the elite swimmers were either competing at the NCAA championships or the Pan American Games.
Parmenter, who swims for the Canyon Country Swim Team, which works out at College of the Canyons, swam the 200 in 2 minutes 17.10 seconds and a 4:46.36 in the 400, personal bests. Those times put her among the top 20 swimmers in the United States in the 200 and top 10 in the 400.
“I was a little surprised,” Parmenter, 14, said. “It was a great experience. It was my second seniors and the first one to make finals. I thought I would make finals, but I didn’t think I’d finish first.”
By comparison, Olympic champion Janet Evans was 15 when she won her first national title.
Parmenter is hoping to repeat her finishes and improve her times today in the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena. She’d like to finish in 2:16 in the 200 and 4:45 in the 400, both of which would place her among the top 10 all-time U.S. swimmers. Parmenter competed in the 200-meter backstroke Tuesday and did not reach the final. She will swim in the 100-meter backstroke Thursday.
She is hoping to make the Pan Pacific team by finishing among the top two in individual events for an automatic berth.
“This is really an important meet for me,” Parmenter said. “It gets you ready for the Olympics and stuff. I want to make Pan Pacs. I want to swim in the pool--it’s the same pool they’re using for the Olympics.”
She already has qualified for the Olympic trials, March 6-12 in Indianapolis. She will turn 15 on March 13.
“I’m just going to race,” she said. “I just want to win. I do get nervous, but that’s normal. I don’t worry about anybody else, but everybody always looks at me. I think it’s because I was always so young.”
Her coach, Bruce Patmos, said: “Up until now we haven’t had any pressure. We knew we would be seeded pretty well [last March], but we were just hoping to make finals in four events. Once we got there, then we realized she was ready to swim fast.
“There wasn’t any pressure because none of the big names were there, but now that you’ve made that accomplishment, now there’s pressure to remain at that level.”
The road for Parmenter has been a rather easy one. She began swimming when she was 8. She said at the time her parents didn’t realize just how good she was.
“I just started swimming; I liked it,” Parmenter said. “I first started doing ballet, but I didn’t like it. I just love swimming. I don’t think I could ever quit.”
Patmos said he wasn’t overly impressed with Parmenter when she joined his team as a 10-year-old.
“I really didn’t pay too much attention to her when she was with [her previous team],” Patmos said. “There was another girl here who was just about as fast. Jenny would beat my girl or my girl would beat Jenny. A lot of times you see kids in the 9-10, 11-12 age group do really well and then kind of fade.”
But Parmenter grew brighter.
Patmos took her accomplishments in stride--at first.
“My feeling is it’s nice, but don’t make too big a deal out of it,” he said. “I noticed she was fast and she seemed to be intense as far as wanting to win every race she swam. She doesn’t seem to like to lose.”
Parmenter said she really liked to swim against the “big kids.” A year ago she was only 5 feet 4 and 98 pounds. She has grown to 5-7 and 121, and is considered one of the big kids to beat.
“I just work hard and take it day by day,” said Parmenter, who holds 15 age-group records in Southern California for 10-and-under and 11-to 12-year-olds. However, she has yet to set a national age-group record.
But that doesn’t seem to bother her. What does irritate Parmenter are the rumors that swirl around an up-and-coming swimmer. She is well-known in the Los Angeles-area swimming community and has fast become a role model for younger swimmers.
But as Parmenter improves, the rumors grow: According to various unreliable sources she dropped out of school and is home-schooled so she can spend more time in the water--as many as eight hours a day; she swims three workouts a day; she started using weights when she was 9; when she isn’t sleeping, she’s swimming.
Some parents have their young swimmers copy her rumored training regimen. Parmenter shakes her head in disbelief when confronted with the rumors.
The truth is she attends L.A. Baptist High and will be a ninth-grader in September. She began practicing twice a day last summer and did swim “a couple” of morning workouts throughout the school year but wasn’t excited about waking up early to be at the pool by 5:30 a.m.
“I get upset when I hear the rumors, but I can’t let it bother me,” Parmenter said. “I know it isn’t true. I just keep working hard. Success comes in cans, not cannots.”
Kristine Quance of Northridge, now at USC, said she was not aware of any rumors about her training schedule.
“I don’t think my parents even knew about triples and stuff,” Quance said. “I didn’t get into this until I was older. I don’t think anyone was looking at me.”
Amanda Beard, 13, of Irvine said she swims about 4,000 yards a day. Beard, who finished second in the 200-meter breaststroke Tuesday, said she was not aware of any rumors about her training.
“I’m just a normal person,” said Parmenter. “I go to church on Sunday. I have a life. I like all sports. I play the piano. I like the beach. We don’t have to be back for workouts until 5:30 p.m. so I can go to the movies, (the water amusement park) Hurricane Harbor.”
Life would seem normal, but few 14-year-olds have already qualified for the Olympic trials.
“I like the idea I’m 14 and could qualify for the Olympics,” Parmenter said. “There’s a lot of newcomers and I’m confident. I think I’m going to do very well.”
Patmos thinks Parmenter can be the next Janet Evans, Parmenter’s idol.
“I think she’s going to have longevity,” Patmos said.
“One of her fortes is she likes being in the water and she likes competition. But I don’t make any predictions; I do know we’re going to finish the race.”