Alumni Voices: Class of '97 swims Chesapeake Bay

By Kristin Putchinski ’97 

Kristin and Brent (web)Brent and Kristin after their Chesapeake Bay swimI walked onto the Hendrix Water Warriors team my freshman year at Hendrix because my older sister swam in high school and I wanted to be like her. I had never swum competitively and Coach Jim Kelly welcomed me, like any sucker, by asking the whole team "who wants to swim the mile?" I didn’t know what that meant, so I volunteered. Little did I know that long-distance swimming is the event they put at the END of every swim meet. It’s boring for spectators (if indeed, there are any by the time you’re finished) and truly a test of mental ability if you’re the swimmer.

Fast forward a bit. I swam for three years with the team, stupidly neglecting it my senior year, but never lost my love of being in the water. After college, I taught swim lessons at the "Y" in New Orleans and tried to keep up the shape I was in through sporadic month long re-dedications to swimming the mile. I moved to Baltimore in 2000 and joined a Masters Team for two years, but the 5:45 a.m. practices stopped working after awhile and eventually, I let that go, too.

Suddenly, it’s 2007. My life is different than I ever imagined it would be. Pursuing a career as a songwriter and musician, I had taken a flying leap in 2004 into the world of self employment and being an entrepreneur (something I believe Hendrix wholeheartedly prepared me for!), but wasn’t spending too much time thinking about my health. A family member’s health scare prompted me to get back in the pool. That first time was like returning to an old, familiar house. However, progress was disappointingly slow. Throughout this time, there were a few visits home to Texas, where I was lucky enough to be able to catch a dinner with my old swim team mate, Brent Spear ’97 (who is now a practicing dentist in Fort Worth).

In the Fall of 2009, I decided that I wanted to do something momentous, to commemorate the year. I had heard about The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, an open water event. There were two options: the 4.4 mile swim-across-the-bay swim and a one-mile swim. Before I even signed up for the swim, I started telling myself and other people what I was doing as a form of self-imposed accountability. I saw Brent again in January 2010 and we talked about the swim. He decided that he wanted to travel to Baltimore and swim alongside me.

I kept a log of my progress. It was slow through the winter, but as spring approached, I was regularly slogging through a mile. Brent and I kept in touch through emails and texts – encouraging each other with accounts of our workouts and simultaneously renewing our friendship. I won’t say it felt like old times, because it was something better. It was my friend from times past, becoming a good friend again at a different chapter in our lives.

Brent made his travel plans to visit Baltimore. If all went according to plan, Brent’s brother, Brad Spear ’94, was going to pick him up the night before the swim and they would ride out to the Bay early in the morning. I was going to be rolling in at 2:30 a.m. the night of the swim from a gig in Virginia.

We met up on the shores of the Chesapeake early in the morning of June 13th. We put on our numbered caps and our ankle bracelets that contain a computer chip to log our start and end times. I was running on adrenaline and very little sleep. I was in the second wave of swimmers (the one-milers go in heats of 100 swimmers) and Brent was in the fifth wave. I went down to the shore and heard the yell to "go!" It was all legs and arms and mass confusion for the first 500 yards as we all navigated the half foot chop in the water and aimed for the distant buoys. The only thing I remember about the swim itself was turning the corner that marked that I was a third of the way through. The singular thought in my mind was: "kick, pull, kick, pull, breathe ... repeat." Finally, the shore was in sight. Those last few yards seemed to pass very slowly, but I felt the water become shallow and I stood up and ran onto the beach.

As I passed the barrier that recorded my time (29 minutes and 6 seconds), I was overcome by the feeling of wanting to do the swim again immediately. It was thrilling. I returned to my friends who had come to cheer us on and waited for Brent to finish with his group.

Our times qualified us to attempt the 4.4 mile swim ACROSS the Chesapeake Bay next year and Brent and I made plans to swim together again. I recently joined another Masters Team to get myself in shape for that event. (The longer swim usually takes approximately three hours to complete.) Even though Brent and I live 1,300 miles apart, it was a wonderful opportunity to re-connect over our shared interest that began during our time at Hendrix. Just another example of how the Hendrix experience stays with you.

Kristin Putchinski '97 is a full-time musician, songwriter and composer who performs as ellen cherry, a project she began while at Hendrix. She has released five original works produced by her label and studio, Wrong Size Shoes, based in Baltimore, Md.

Share your Voice

Submissions for Alumni Voices should be e-mailed to the editor at plotkin@hendrix.edu. We are interested in publishing alumni-written essays that either reflect on your time at Hendrix or discuss how the Hendrix experience influenced the course of your life. To be considered for the spring 2011 edition of Hendrix Magazine, your essay should be received by Jan. 5, 2011.