It was her first practice in two weeks, and Jennifer Parmenter felt a bit awkward.
Sure, she was fine in the water, swimming again with friends at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita. She had even come to terms with that embarrassing sign her coach and teammates put on the wall--Congratulations Jenny Parmenter on Olympic Trials! 400 IM alternate. 200 IM sixth. 200 Back sixth.
But still something was awry, and the 15-year-old freshman who attends Los Angeles Baptist High in North Hills was trying to put it into words.
"I don't know," Parmenter says. "It is just a little weird. I'm just getting back right now, and it feels good . . . but different."
Everything is different these days for Parmenter. She was within seconds of a trip to the Olympics in Atlanta this summer after finishing third in the 400-meter individual medley at the trials in Indianapolis earlier this month.
Now she is back home, training with the Canyons aquatics club and back in Lane 6.
She is not on the same road as Amanda Beard, the heralded 14-year old freshman at Irvine High who made the Olympic team after winning the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke races at the trials. Parmenter made a flip-turn and ended up back home, dealing with irony such as racing against high school students after hitting the wall with the best in the nation.
"It's not like there are going to be any big races for me soon," Parmenter said.
Perhaps only a 15-year-old could make light of the situation--to be that close to a life's dream but not touch it.
In the 400 IM at the trials, Parmenter was timed in 4:49.50, 2.62 seconds behind second-place finisher Whitney Metzler. The top two finishers in each event qualified for the Olympics, and Parmenter knows if she would have swum her personal best in the event (4:46.3), she would have made it. That is a thought that passes quickly.
"I realize that if I would have made it, it would have changed my life," Parmenter said. "But it didn't happen. Everything happens for a reason."
Parmenter's perspective shows the emphasis that she, her family and coach, Bruce Patmos, put on the trials.
"Everyone urged me to take it seriously because I had a real shot," Parmenter said. "But also I knew that I was young and four years ahead of schedule. I trained hard, but I also knew that if I didn't make it, I would have another chance."
It was the same attitude that Beard took with her into the trials, one of many similarities between the two young standouts.
"I think Jennifer, like Amanda, went into [the trials] feeling like she had nothing to lose. They both are young, so there wasn't any pressure," said David Salo, coach of the Irvine Novas, Beard's club. "It depends a lot on the relationship between the swimmer and coach. And I know Bruce; they didn't blow it out of perspective."
When the trials began, the comparisons were inevitable between Beard and Parmenter, both 14. Each is expected to be among the leaders for the next several years.
Today, however, Parmenter speaks of Beard as if she were 10 years her elder.
"She is going there and getting up on the blocks, and who knows, she could win a medal and gain some respect back for the United States," Parmenter said. "When you think about that, it is pretty amazing."
Some might think Parmenter was the Olympian if they caught a glimpse of her leaving practice. Her parents run a limousine service, so she is picked up by a gleaming black Cadillac almost every day. In truth, though, the opulence doesn't fit her.
She didn't become a serious contender for the Olympic team until last spring, when she won titles in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys at the national championships in Minnesota.
Parmenter is 5 feet 8, 128 pounds, and grew almost four inches in the past year. Physically, she is catching up with the favorites in her events--USC junior Kristine Quance of Northridge, who was disqualified in the preliminary round of the 400 IM at the trials, and Allison Wagner, an eight-time national champion from Gainesville, Fla., who won the event at the trials.
Lately, Parmenter has thought more about Quance's failure to make the Olympics in the 400 IM than her own.
"I wish she could have swam that race," Parmenter said. "I bet she would have set an American record if she would have swam. This was the year she was shooting for and she deserved to make it."
For Parmenter, the question of 'What to do?' surfaced for the first time in a long while after the trials. She took a rare two-week vacation from swimming, and at first, the concept of free time seemed strange.
There were movies with her brother, Kevin. She caught up on television shows she hadn't seen in a while. And there was a trip to Magic Mountain.
And she stayed busy with her studies at L.A. Baptist, a small parochial school that doesn't have a pool or a swimming team.