Kristen Brennand wasn’t very much into sports growing up and didn’t start swimming competitively until she was 9, about a year after she started taking lessons.
And to say she had a rocky start would be an understatement.
“I was really not very good at all, in fact, I was kind of bad,” Brennand said of her first swimming ventures.
“I remember my first few meets I had to swim the 100 (individual medley) and I had no idea how to swim the butterfly,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I got disqualified.
“It was just really hard because I would practically sink.”
Brennand just pushed harder, and her unwavering resolve, which has since become her trademark, has helped her rise to the top.
And these days, the incoming Burlingame High senior is flourishing.
Last month, Brennand was among three BHS female swimmers competing at the prestigious . Naomi Thomas and Maddie Gebhard were the others.
Swimming for Burlingame Aquatics, Brennand competed in three races against a field that included elite international competition and top-level college swimmers. She finished 110th in the 200-meter individual medley (2 minutes, 26.86 seconds), 185th in the 200 freestyle (2:13.25) and 202nd in the 100 butterfly (1:08.75).
Her career highlights include advancing to the Central Coast Section finals in the 200-yard IM (as a freshman and junior) and the 100 and 200 freestyle (as a sophomore). , she swam the anchor leg in two Burlingame relay teams that finished in the top six, including an impressive second-place showing in the 200 medley relay.
Brennand is also a three-time individual champion in the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division. She won the 100 freestyle in her first two years, and as a junior.
“She’s got perseverance,” said Chris Culp, her Burlingame High and Burlingame Aquatics coach.
“She’s done very, very well picking herself back up and learning from her mistakes,” Culp said.
Brennand by her own admission had a disappointing junior year. But she kept working at it, and her determination paid off with a solid showing at the Santa Clara meet that has her poised for a turnaround.
Her next big meet is the July 20-25 Speedo Championship Series Sectionals in Clovis.
“All along she’s just been kind of building interest, if you look at it kind of as a bank account,” Culp said. “This summer she’s going to cash in that interest.”
Brennand acknowledged she felt intimidated at times at the Santa Clara meet, as her slight, 5-foot-5 frame left her feeling like she was competing in the Land of the Giants with much bigger college girls.
And then there was the wow-factor of competing in the same venue with the likes of Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Natalie Coughlin and Amanda Beard, among others.
“I was kind of star struck,” Brennand said. “My coach was actually talking to me at the time, and I forgot everything that he said. I was just staring at Michael Phelps when he walked by. I was just kind of amazed.”
And after just one weekend of competing among star-studded field, she’s hooked.
“I think that the experience itself was really motivating because after this I definitely want to go back next year,” Brennand said.
“I want to be in meets at a more competitive level with Phelps and Lochte, where people know the names. I think that’s really motivational to get to a higher level for nationals and junior nationals.”
Brennand has her sights set on competing at a four-year college. Among her top choices are Div. III Chapman and Div. II UC Santa Cruz.
She plans to major in creative writing.
And despite a bumpy junior year, she remains as determined as ever.
“I realized that it’s something I could succeed in college and even past college, and that motivates me to keep going,” she said. “It’s just been such a big part of my life that quitting now, I could never do that.”
Culp believes that Brennand can make an impact at a four-year college, noting that in addition to her tremendous work ethic and determination, she has some natural aptitude.
“She has incredible feel for the water, she just has a natural ability to move the water really well,” Culp said.
“Physically, she doesn’t look that strong, but she makes it look really easy.”
Brennand said she was determined to make her mark even when she was a youth swimmer, when competing was anything but easy.
“I’ve just always liked the idea of competition,” she said. “I was so little, and you’re eager to get better when you’re so little, so I think that really helped a lot too.
“At that point I knew it was something I could be good at by the time I’m 17 or 18.”