Blomme Returns Home to Whitman, Transforms Missionary Swim Programs into NWC Power
Jennifer Blomme, a Walla Walla native who moved east with her family as a young child, returned to the area in 2000 and has spent the last decade transforming Whitman College into one of the top swim programs in the Northwest Conference.
Blomme, who coaches both the men's and women's swim teams at Whitman, was named NWC Coach of the Year four times in her first 10 years at the college.
Her most recent coaching award (for women's swimming) came at the close of the 2011 NWC Championships, when her women's team broke schools records in all five relays and Whitman sophomore Katie Chapman won all three of her individual races and was named the Women's Outstanding Swimmer of the Meet.
Her men's team, which finished a strong third at the 2011 NWC Championships, also made notable headlines outside of the pool, earning Team Scholar All-America honors while posting the highest combined grade point average in all of NCAA Division III.
Blomme was named NWC Coach of the Year for men's swimming after the 2010 championships, which capped the best season in the history of the men's program at Whitman.
Earlier in the decade, Blomme collected her first two NWC coaching awards (both for women's swimming) following the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
In addition to her coaching duties, Blomme manages Whitman's Louise and Paul Harvey Pool, which is home for the varsity swim teams and also serves the recreational needs of the campus community.
The 30-meter pool, which opened in the fall of 2006 as part of the new $10-million Baker Ferguson Fitness Center, features eight competitive lanes, three warm-up and cool-down lanes, and an elevated viewing area for meet spectators.
Blomme was a varsity swimmer, specializing in the breaststroke, at Grinnell (Iowa) College, where she earned her undergraduate degree in 1996, majoring in Spanish. Grinnell, which has a traditionally strong NCAA Div. III swim program, captured its conference title in two of her four seasons there.
After Grinnell, Blomme was an assistant swim coach at Dickinson College (Carlisle, Penn.) for one season and the head coach at Pennsylvania's Bryn Mawr College for one season. Before coming to Whitman, she served as a volunteer women's coach at Indiana University for two two years while she completed her master's degree.
Dickinson and Bryn Mawr, like Whitman and Grinnell, are members of NCAA Div. III, which precludes schools from giving athletic scholarships.
Blomme was born in Walla Walla while her mother, Gayle Blomme, was working as a sabbatical teaching replacement in the English Department at Whitman. The family soon moved to the Olympia, Wash., area and later relocated to Michigan.
"Coming back to Walla Walla and Whitman was great," Blomme said. "From the time I moved to Michigan as a child, I always wanted to return to the West Coast."
After completing her master's degree, Blomme pursued the coaching vacancy at Whitman because she wanted to work at a small liberal arts college with an NCAA Division III athletic affiliation.
"Whitman is one of the top schools in the country," she said. "If you ask me for a wish list on what I want in a coaching position, Whitman covers all the bases. You don't always get so much of what you are looking for, so I feel very fortunate."
Speaking in part from her own experience as a college swimmer, Blomme bases her coaching philosophy on the concept that "Division III athletes are striving to do their best in their academic as well their athletic endeavors. Participation in sport can be a tremendous complement to their lives without dominating their collegiate experience."
In working with her athletes, Blomme establishes training regimens that are individualized in nature and specific to each swimmer's competitive events. Above all she stresses the importance of perfecting swimming strokes.
"Swim training is often based to a large extent on quantity," she said. "The idea is, the more you swim, the better you become. While there are times for high volume training, I really stress the value of technique and proper stroke mechanics. You can swim all the yards you want and not get faster if you are not swimming efficiently."
Blomme began her own competitive swimming career at Northview High School in Grand Rapids, Mich., and continued to compete while at Grinnell. "For me, swimming is what held my college experience together," she said. "It gave me the chance to be part of a great community while still facing individual challenges, hardships and successes."
After completing her undergraduate degree, Blomme soon "discovered that coaching swimming is my passion," she said. "This is what I want to do with my life."
Blomme and husband Adam Kirtley, the Stuart Coordinator of Religious and Spiritual Life at Whitman, have two young daughters.