Jenna Bridges, a former Chase Trojan swim team champion, recently broke records as a member of the Louisiana State University (LSU) women's swim team. As a participant in the 200-yard butterfly championship final, she overtook four swimmers during the final 50 yards to take home the third individual gold medal of the meet for the LSU team. She finished with a school record time of 1:54.18. The previous time was held by Kara Kopcso in 2016.
"It was an unbelievable race," said the 19-year-old daughter of Cyrstal and Jeff Bridges of Forest City. "It feels unbelievable that I am a school record holder in both the 500-yard freestyle and the 200-yard butterfly.
"Records are great benchmarks when it comes to looking at how a program has improved," said Jenna, an LSU sophomore.
"In the past year and a half, LSU has managed to knock down countless school records, and I think it's a testament to how far the team has come under new leadership as well as the direction that our team is headed in."
Since breaking the record Jenna has received congratulatory remarks on Facebook, including one from Chivous Bradley, "Jenna Bridges 500 BFreestyle LSU all time record and SEC Conference Champion. You do Chase High School and Rutherford County Proud. Outstanding performance!"
While at Chase High School, Jenna won her first North Carolina High School Association of Athletics (NCHSAA) championship in the 100-yard butterfly as a sophomore. She defended her title both junior and senior year while also competing in the 500-yard freestyle all three years.
"It was an honor to represent the Trojans at the state level," Jenna said. "High school swim season was always so much fun, I look back on the bus rides, post-meet Chic-fil-a nuggets and relay races with nostalgia."
While at Chase, Jenna's parents were among her coaches. "I'm fortunate that they got to be a part of mine and my sisters high school swimming careers in such an intimate way."
During the high school swim season, her parents served primarily as a source of constant encouragement and motivation,
"Having my parents around as her high school swim coaches reminded Jenna of the sacrifices they made throughout my life, especially during high school, "so that I could compete with my team in South Carolina." She was a member of the Y-Spartaquatics Swim Club.
She said her parents never complained about driving her to swim practice an hour from home at 3:30 a.m. and they never complained when it was time to go back to practice for the second time in a day when they would arrive home at 9 p.m.
"My parents never seemed to tire of helping me achieve my goals, they ran on a battery of love. When I saw my parents on the pool deck during high school swim season, I swam for them," she said.
Jenna's coaches at LSU are quite different, "but in a good way."
As Division I SEC swim coaches, Jenna said the coaches have high expectations for their athletes.
"My coaches have pushed me every day to reach new heights that I never thought would be possible. Rick Bishop, LSU's head coach, always encourages myself and my teammates to be professional athletes--to take on the responsibility of our own success. My coaches have helped my confidence in the pool immensely. On top of that, they encourage me to be a leader on the team, despite being an underclassmen."
Jenna has been swimming since she was three years old. She started year-round swimming at age five. Swimming has been a part of Jenna's life for as long as she can remember.
"Honestly, it is a part of who I am. To say I have not had my ups and downs with the sport would be a lie. However, I've never lost the genuine love for the sport. While it's easy to get caught up in being tired or worn out, I've never lost sight of the fact that, for me, swimming is a God-given gift.
"I would not be at LSU if God would not have made a way for me, and that fact gives me indescribable comfort and reassurance when it's hour 15 of 20 of practice this week and I just want to sleep. Plus, swimming is simply too hard to do if you don't love it. If I didn't love to swim, I could not bring myself to do what I do," Jenna continued.
Jenna was also a member of the Rutherford County Swim Team (RCST) where she got her start with USA Swimming and year-round competition.
"My coach at RCST, Mike Kernodle, taught me the value of focus and discipline at a young age. Coach "K" used to travel around the state and the South with my family and I when it would sometimes only be the two of us on deck at state and sectional competitions. No matter the circumstances, Coach "K" made a way to come to practice for myself and my teammates. I had so much fun at RCST, and I love to come to their practices when I can now and then. I made friends on the team that I am still close with today, and I feel very grateful that I had such as positive, fun environment to start my swimming career. I learned to love swimming at the Isothermal Community College pool."
Jenna will also be competing with several other teammates at the NCAA Championship at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee from March 15-18.
"I'll be swimming the 500-yard freestyle, the 100-yard butterfly and the 200-yard butterfly," she said. "I am able to swim the 500 free and the 100 fly because I have a "B" cut in these events, and with my 200-fly time I am likely to get invited to the meet," Jenna said. "It's been my goal since coming to LSU to get invited to this meet as it is one of the most competitive meets in the world. I'll prepare for this meet in a similar way that I prepared for SECs, I'll build my yardage and intensity back up then taper down before the meet.
Jenna's swim season at LSU is from September to March, and she will continue swimming in Baton Rouge over the summer in hopes of qualifying for the Olympic Trials.
At LSU Jenna is studying journalism at the Manship School of Mass Communication and hopes to become a newspaper reporter.
"I have found a passion in writing here at LSU. Journalism will offer me the chance to do so many of the things that I love aside from writing such as traveling, meeting new people and learning something new everyday."
"I've loved writing my entire life, and I believe that a career as a journalist will allow me to fulfill my goal of becoming a life-long learner as I'll get to meet new people, travel to new places and chase new beats," she added.
Jenna offers advice for anyone wanting to follow in her footsteps. "No one accomplishes anything alone.
"Going all the way back to when I first started swimming at three years old, I could not have done it without my parents first putting my sisters into the sport, primarily as a life-saving skill," she said.
"Over the past year and a half, I could not have accomplished even half of what I have without the amazing support of my teammates, coaches and athletic trainers at LSU who pushed me through every lap, every rep and every moment of my recovery from surgery. Never forget your roots, never forget where you've come from and never forget the people who have helped you along the way."