Preston Jenkins poses in front of a French sign with fellow BYU interns during a semester abroad in May.
A summer in France is a dream experience for nearly every college student. Senior BYU swimmer Preston Jenkins recently returned from Marseille, France, where he not only trained with a premier team, but also dedicated time to relieving isolation and loneliness among senior citizens. Jenkins did not anticipate the impact this experience would have on him.
Discovering a Passion
Years of preparation made this summer abroad possible. Jenkins has been training in the water for 14 years now. Living north of Los Angeles in Santa Clarita, California, Preston and his older brother, Kaleb, joined a summer swim league.
“I wanted to join a soccer team when I was younger,” admitted Jenkins, “but many games were held on Sunday and my parents did not want me to choose between church and soccer matches. Swim meets were held on weekdays, so my mom signed my brother and me up for a summer team.”
Unsure of which stroke fit him best, Jenkins started training in freestyle and breaststroke. Over the course of the summer, Kaleb thrived in the breaststroke while Preston struggled. As the two signed up for year-round swimming, Jenkins pursued backstroke and found his niche.
“I was pretty awful in the water for my first few months of swimming,” said Jenkins, “but as I became more comfortable in the water, I began to improve and develop a love for the sport.”
After 18 months of swimming with the club, Jenkins took second in the state of California for 10-year-olds in the 100 backstroke. This achievement motivated him to keep swimming and competing as he grew.
“I credit my mother who had incredible foresight and knew that I would need something like swimming to channel my energy and challenge me to work hard throughout my teenage years.”
In 2011, Jenkins moved with his family to Jacksonville, Florida, just before his senior year of high school. By the end of his swim season, he and his teammates had set a national record in the 400-meter freestyle relay. At state, he contributed to a first-place finish in the 200-meter medley relay, while also taking second place in the individual 100-meter backstroke.
A few colleges recruited Jenkins to swim and he was faced with a big decision.
“I thoroughly enjoyed all four of the recruiting trips I went on, but there is just a spirit around the whole BYU campus that can’t be beat and that was a major factor in my decision process,” Jenkins said. “There have certainly been challenging things here, but it’s always been worth it. Coming to BYU has been the right decision for me.”
From 2012-13, Jenkins participated in his freshman season as a Cougar, where he had several first-place finishes, made All-Conference First and Second Teams in four events and set four BYU records.
Following the season, Jenkins left on a two-year Latter-day Saint mission to Cotonou, Benin, located on the south coast of West Africa. He studied the French language for four years in high school and built on that knowledge in Contonou.
“My mission taught me many things, but one primary lesson I learned was to enjoy life no matter the circumstances,” said Jenkins. “The people in Benin inspired me to always be happy and to choose to love what I do.”
Upon returning to BYU, Jenkins declared a double major in French and exercise science with the intention of applying to medical school following graduation. In addition, he rejoined his teammates in the pool as an active participant on the swim team.
Jenkins’ sophomore and junior seasons were no less impressive than his freshman. Throughout the two years, he competed in the U.S. Olympic trials, earned a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation/Turbo Athlete of the Week award, achieved All-Academic MPSF Scholar-Athlete recognition, set more BYU records, made All-Conference First and Second Teams and recorded several first-place finishes.
A Summer in France
Approaching his senior season, Jenkins knew he needed to train throughout the summer to stay on top of his game. Upon receiving a internship with a nonprofit organization in France, he searched for a swim training opportunity. Jenkins reached out to the coaches of Cercle de Nageurs Marseillle (Marseille Swimmer’s Circle) and earned a spot on the team for the summer.
“This team has a rich history of Olympians, world champions and world record holders, and I knew that it would be a great opportunity to train at a high level,” Jenkins said.
Unfortunately, Jenkins had an accident right before his trip to France that prevented him from competing fully on the team. While playing night games with neighborhood kids, he tripped on the curb, and broke his elbow.
Although Jenkins was unable to participate in every swimming activity and workout in France, he quickly regained strength and benefited from the new training techniques, drills and form that ultimately helped elevate his performance.
“The coaches have been great helping me get back in shape and re-learning my stroke,” Jenkins said.
With two practices each day, Jenkins spent a large chunk of time with the members of the team.
“I love this team and their chemistry,” Jenkins said. “They spend 20-30 minutes before and after practice just talking together. This brought us together and we were able to support each other in more than just swimming.”
An internship with Petits Freres des Pauvres (Little Brothers of the Poor) made the trip to France possible. Each day, Jenkins primarily spent time in the senior center talking to the residents and improving his French.
“Since I love being with people and learning about new cultures, this opportunity felt perfect for me,” Jenkins said. “My favorite part about this whole trip has been the people I’ve met. The friendships I’ve made have allowed me to see new perspectives and understand different cultures.”
Jenkins’ trip culminated with the Meeting International de Canet-en-Roussillon, where he competed with swimmers from around the globe in the 200-meter freestyle and backstroke. Although his times were not ranked among his best due to his healing elbow, he was grateful for the opportunity to participate.
A Season to Remember
Now home from his overseas experience, Jenkins credits the team in France for sparking a renewed drive to work hard and enjoy his senior swimming season. Knowing that this is his final season to compete as a college athlete at BYU, Jenkins looks forward to the upcoming competition.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m feeling the drive to make this a swim season a year to remember,” Jenkins said. “I’m pumped and ready to go.”
Through all his years of swimming, Jenkins has learned one important lesson.
“No matter where you’re from or what language you speak,” says Jenkins, “the most important factor in swimming remains the same: just have fun. We all have similar struggles — for some it’s physical and others, it’s mental. Putting all of that aside, none of the training is worth it if you don’t have fun. Everything goes smoother when you chose to just enjoy the experience.”
Jenkins is well-liked on the team, especially with his outgoing personality and endless energy.
“Preston is a dedicated swimmer and is always looking for ways to improve,” former BYU swim captain Rainer Ng said. “He has great experience competing at a very high level and can consistently deliver clutch results. He is probably one of the most enthusiastic people I know and he gives his whole heart to this team.”
BYU head coach John Brooks is grateful to have a strong swimmer to lead the BYU team during the 2017-18 season.
“Preston came to BYU having already competed in the Olympic trials,” Brooks said. “I’m excited to watch as he leads this team as captain this year. His successful history combined with his drive to improve is exactly what this team needs to succeed.”
Jenkins is committed to doing his best and giving his all to a team that has consistently been with him.
“I’m excited to be back with my team at BYU — there’s something about our team atmosphere that just can’t be replicated. We have a stellar senior class that’s stuck it out together from day one during freshman year. We’re ready for our year!”
Win or lose, ups or downs, struggles or successes, Jenkins holds to his personal motto as his senior season approaches: work hard and have fun.