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Rough Waters

Rapid Changes Divert Parmenter's Attention From Swimming


VAN NUYS — Jennifer Parmenter, one of the best young swimmers in the nation, needed a kick board.

Maybe a pair of floaties too, which was strange, considering she wasn't even in a swimming pool.

Several times within the past year, Parmenter, a junior at Granada Hills High, felt like she was sinking while trying to adjust to her parents' separation last July after 20 years of marriage.

Her father, Richard, and mother, Cheryl, haven't been speaking, leaving Jennifer--and her swimming career--suspended in the middle.

"Since my parents' separation, I've had a mental turn," Parmenter said. "I've been off and on in swimming. I haven't really been there.

"I think everybody goes through a problem in life and I think this is my point there. If I'm not swimming like I always have, it's because I've been fixing things with my mom and dad."

Swimming has been thrown in the back seat for other reasons.

Last fall, Parmenter transferred from tiny L.A. Baptist, which has an enrollment of about 500 students, to Granada Hills, which has more than 3,000 students.

The belly ring and pierced tongue--"you don't even know it's there," she said of the tongue ring--aren't the only changes for Parmenter in the past year, but then again, nobody ever said life would be boring for the person who barely missed making the Olympics as a 15-year-old in 1996.

At Monday's East Valley League finals, Parmenter had no trouble winning both of her individual events--the 200-meter freestyle and 100 breaststroke--even though they're not really her events.

Her specialties at the high school level are the 200 individual medley and the 500 free, but Parmenter is yielding to Stephanie Shapiro, a senior who is the three-time City Section champ in those events.

"The fact that [Parmenter] is willing to swim two of her off events, even though nothing's really an off event for her, shows great maturity on her part," Coach Jeff Conwell said.

"Next year, she's going to have her pick."

Sooner than that, Parmenter will be competing in her true specialty--the 400 individual medley--at the senior nationals in August. She hopes to see her father and mother sitting next to each other in the bleachers.

"I'm making them sit together," Parmenter said. "They will talk.

"They say hi and bye [now], but nothing where they can sit down and talk about things. That's what's so hard for me."

Parmenter lives with her mother in an apartment in Northridge, and her father and younger brother, Kevin, live in Oxnard.

"It's not a perfect world. You have to adjust to ups and downs," said Cheryl, who holds three jobs and shares her car with her daughter.

"In sports, you have to adjust to failure and success. It's the same in life too. It's been a little rough, but she's starting to get back into it."

Parmenter recently approached her mother and told her that she's ready to rededicate herself to the pool.

"I'm trying as hard as I can to be motivated," Parmenter said. "I want to find the fun that I had before. I don't want it to be a job or a chore. A lot of swimmers quit because of that. I'm just trying to start over."

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