New high school swim coach knows how to endure

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Emily von Jentzen (Photo provided)

The Columbia Falls High School swim team will be in good hands for the upcoming season with new coach Emily von Jentzen.

Von Jentzen’s most recent athletic feat was an unprecedented double crossing of Flathead Lake, a 56-mile trek. She completed the swim in 40 hours, stopping every hour or so to tread water and eat. The rules of a double crossing required her to get out of the water between crossings, so she got on shore “for eight minutes and ate a couple grilled cheese sandwiches” before getting back in for the second half, she said recently.

Although the undertaking was successful, it was harder than she expected.

“I thought we’d be done 10 hours sooner. I was hoping to finish at noon on Sunday but we finished at 10 p.m.,” she remarked. “You just don’t know in open water swimming what kind of conditions you’re going to get.”

Von Jentzen, 34, is the first person in history to accomplish the double crossing of Flathead Lake, and she’s no stranger to marathon swims. In 2010, she became the first woman to complete a single crossing of Flathead Lake, and in 2011 she swam 50 miles to cross Lake Chelan in Washington, becoming the first person ever to do so. In 2015, she crossed 30 lakes in 60 days.

A competitive triathlete until 2010, she also aced a 24-hour triathlon in Aurora, Colorado, completing 11 back-to-back sprint triathlons in one day.

“I was never the fastest at anything, but I’ve always had the ability to endure a little bit longer than anyone else,” von Jentzen said. “I never thought I would do things that no one had ever done before.”

She learned to swim before she could walk, and began swimming competitively at age 9. She remained on swim teams through high school and college and is now a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, USA Swimming Level I Certified Coach, USMS Level IV Certified Coach, and ASCA Level II Certified Coach.

Von Jentzen grew up in Granite Falls, Washington, completed her undergrad education at Central Washington University, and moved to Montana in 2006 to attend law school at the University of Montana.

“I fell in love with Montana,” she noted. “I chose to take the Montana bar instead of going back to Washington. Once you take the bar you’re kind of restricted to that state, but that’s worked out well for me.”

Von Jentzen works as an assistant city prosecutor in Kalispell. Because she works 40 hours a week, her training time was limited. She swam four or five days a week for up to five hours, often getting up in the wee hours of in the morning. She did some cross-training at the beginning of her year-long preparation, and practiced yoga consistently until the day of the double crossing.

When she’s not swimming, von Jentzen enjoys playing with her Labradors. Her job is fulfilling as well.

“I’ve always been interested in making sure people follow the rules,” she said. “I like the complexities of the law and researching things. You never become an expert on anything.”

A perfect candidate to teach swimming, von Jentzen applied for the swim coach position after a number of friends suggested it to her.

“I think it’s going to be a good fit for me,” she explained. “I like the idea of helping kids find their love for swimming. Coaching is such a cool opportunity to give back to the sport. My focus as a coach is always going to be on having fun and self-improvement.”

For von Jentzen, swimming has been a life-shaping pursuit, a great opportunity to set personal goals, and an effective metaphor for tough times.

“It really helps you learn some really great life skills in addition to being a good teammate and athlete,” she noted. “Swimming has always been how I can solve things. It’s good thinking time when your head is in the water.”

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