Olympic hopeful Christine Jennings doesn't have to be educated about the inherent perils of open-water swimming (heat exhaustion, hypothermia, polluted water and stinging jellyfish, among others), but she never, ever imagined she'd be hurt sprinting toward a finish line on the beach.
Almost three weeks ago, Jennings emerged from the water for the homestretch of an invitational race in Rio de Janeiro that alternated swimming and running, with five repetitions of an 800-meter swim followed by a 50-meter dash on the beach. As she hoofed it to the finish on the uneven sand, Jennings felt her hyperextended right leg buckle and looked down to the horrifying sight of knee and calf twisting in opposite directions.
Brazilian television ran the footage at regular intervals for the next 24 hours. Jennings, trying to find some humor in the situation, tweeted from her hospital bed: "Who knew that breaking your leg could get you famous in another country? ... I can't watch!"
The toll for the 2010 Pan Pacific gold medalist and two-time world championship team member: fractures of the tibial plateau and fibula, and a sprained posterior cruciate ligament. The timing: lousy, since Jennings is entering a critical period in her bid to book a place on the U.S. Olympic team for the 10K open-water event.
Fellow American Alex Meyer has already qualified with a fourth-place finish at the world championships. Only one U.S. woman can join him among the elite in London by finishing in the top two at the national championships in late April and then in the top nine in an Olympic qualifying race in Portugal on June 9.
Jennings was able to fly home a day after her freak injury, then suffered through a bout of food poisoning. She recently began upper-body workouts and got into a pool this past Thursday for the first time since the accident to do some pulling with her legs in a stationary position. She's not sure when she'll be able to resume full training, but intends to carry on with her competitive plan this spring.
"The story hasn't ended yet -- it all depends on who's writing it," Jennings said by phone from the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs. "I'm going to make [rehab] my job as best I can."