Two years ago Kellie Pennington’s father, Jim Pennington, told his daughter that if she were to win a national championship, he would reward her with a car.
Kellie, being the decorated swimmer that she has become over the last four years at Springfield College, took the offer. Combining it with her determination, hard work and self-motivation to be the best she could be, Pennington left Indianapolis, Ind. with a national title in the 50 free.
This season her father made a very similar offer. If Kellie were to return to Springfield College with another national championship, he would give his daughter a new puppy.
For anyone that knows Pennington on a personal level, she really loves puppies.
Kellie Pennington came to Springfield College in 2010 and immediately made waves in the pool, finishing her freshman year with three All-America honors in the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay.
Standing on the starting blocks in the same natatorium that Pennington won her first national championship two seasons ago, the senior decided to make an even bigger wave for her team. She sprinted to a time of 49.41 in the 100 freestyle, smashing a school record and becoming a two-time national champion.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Pennington left the NCAA Division III National Championships as an 18-time All-American in her four-year stint with the Pride, including a six-time All-American in 2014 alone.
The Monson, Mass. native broke her own school-record time of 49.94 in the 100 freestyle after posting a 49.86 in the preliminary race on Saturday morning, and then she turned around and broke her own record again with a national-championship winning time of 49.41.
“Kellie is one of those people that is very easy to coach,” said men’s and women’s swimming head coach John Taffe. “She is very receptive to different things that you suggest. She is very coachable. That is what you hope to have with your athletes.
“That always gives you the feeling that you can accomplish something or you can help that person. If they are coachable, you know you can help them reach even higher goals.”
What proved most impressive over the course of the weekend was the fact that after 12 races against the best competition at the Division III level, Pennington posted her most impressive time and race in her last race as a collegiate swimmer.
Sporting a yellowish-white cap that has clearly been used over her career, Pennington turned around after touching the block and immediately broke into a face of disbelief, the face of a national champion.
“Concluding my collegiate swimming career with a national title was one of the best feelings of my life,” said Pennington following the race. “I would have been happy simply getting a best time, but winning was even more than I could have wished for.
“As for our team, I’m extremely proud to represent Springfield College with my teammates.”
Pennington, who will leave the college as one of the most illustrious swimmers to ever pass through the program, believes the support from her parents and coaches has helped her become the athlete she is today.
“Both of my parents had a strong influence in my swimming. They would always come to my big meets and support me throughout the years,” said Pennington. “I feel as though any swimmer owes a lot of their success to their coaches. They essentially design a program that allows you to swim as fast as you possibly can at the end of a very long season. I find it easy to swim for somebody and work hard day in and day out when I know they have my best interests in mind.”
Kellie’s father, Jim Pennington, is head coach of the women’s indoor and outdoor track and field team at Springfield and even though he has seen many great athletes on the track, he is very proud of the legacy that his daughter has left in the pool.
The tenured coach of 30 seasons at Springfield College jokes that after his daughter’s first race, in which she came in first performing the doggie-paddle, he was just as proud as he is now.
“Kellie is a hard worker. She is very dedicated. She has always been driven to get better and better and she pushes herself,” said Jim Pennington. “Kellie is a special person. She swam a little more over this past summer, she worked hard in the weight room and she got prepared to end her career on a good note.”
It wasn’t just Kellie Pennington that came home with a bag full of accolades, for just about every single teammate that made the trip to Indianapolis with her came home with some hardware.
Jennifer Thompson, a senior diver for Springfield College, had an impressive showing for the maroon and white as well, placing third overall on the three-meter board and fifth overall on the one-meter board, making her a two-time All-American in 2014 and a seven-time All-American over the course of her career.
Sophomore Callie Phillips and freshman Delaney Dyjak both finished the weekend as three-time All-Americans. Each were part of the 200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay and 800 freestyle relays that all placed in the top 16 overall, garnering All-American status.
Emily Medeiros, another first-year student, came back to Springfield College with her first All-American recognition after finishing 12th in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:04.32. Ashleigh Monroe, a sophomore from Southbury, Conn. came home as an All-American as part of the 800 freestyle relay that broke a school record with a time of 7:33.29, finishing 11th overall.
Pennington’s father’s jokes about opening a puppy hotel following graduation spark the question of Kellie’s future in swimming. However, Pennington claims to be finished racing competitively in the sport that she grew up to love. Like most athletes facing retirement keep in the back of their head, Pennington utters the words, “never say never.”