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HS Swimming

Always connected: Cumberland Valley sisters Carolyn and Jennifer Bolden share unrivaled bond, success in the pool

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On a 40-minute Zoom call Wednesday night, sisters Carolyn and Jennifer Bolden shared endless laughs and smiles, as the countless cherished moments and memories of post-meet Red Robin trips, relay-winning swims and physically draining interval sets from the 2018-19 season came flooding back.

“Doing a sport and finding friends I think is common,” Jennifer said, “but having a best friend and doing the sport with them is rare. And doing the sport with my best friend [was] something so special and an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was so special having her there, just for that one year.”

Carolyn and Jennifer are always connected.

Whether it’s through frequent text messaging, making 45-second FaceTime calls just to say “hi” each day, or watching and following one another’s swim competitions, the sisters share a bond and unwavering support for each other.

For one year, the 2018-19 high school swimming season, Carolyn and Jennifer competed side-by-side. Carolyn was a senior captain for the Cumberland Valley swim team while freshman Jennifer was taking her first lap on the high school swim circuit.

Carolyn and Jennifer began swimming at a young age but didn’t develop their true love for the sport until around middle school, they said. And being three grades apart, they never experienced the “teammate thrill” in their early years.

The 2018-19 season changed all of that.

“Just being with her behind the blocks, “Carolyn said, “seeing her, being with her at practice every day, it was really good, and it’s one of the things that I look back on. The fondest memories are being able to be there with her.”

Three years later, Carolyn and Jennifer are at different points in their competitive swim careers. Carolyn is in the midst of her first season at Millersville University — after one year at Liberty University — and Jennifer is set to embark on her senior season with the Eagles, having a commitment to Bucknell University already in the bag. She’s also one of CV’s team captains, a position Carolyn held just three years prior.

Carolyn and Jennifer said they track each other’s meet results, specifically through the Meet Mobile app. Plus, with last year’s wave of live-streamed events in response to crowd limitations from the coronavirus pandemic, it allowed Carolyn to watch some of Jennifer’s meets in real time.

Competing 50 miles apart, the sisters said the support system they share hasn’t dwindled the slightest. If anything, it’s grown stronger.

“Whenever we can, we try and communicate with each other,” Carolyn said, “and we keep track of each other’s results.”

“I never want to miss a beat of what Carolyn’s doing,” Jennifer said. “I’m always looking at Meet Mobile whenever she has meets, and even if I can’t make it because I have practice or where meets on Saturdays overlap with her meet schedule, I’m always asking my mom what’s going on, because she’s normally there. So, I definitely still try and stay in touch as much as possible, so I know what’s going on in the loop. It feels like I’m there.”

Along with the strengthening of their sisterly bond through the 2018 season, Carolyn and Jennifer absorbed skills and traits from one another in both mental and physical capacities. Jennifer said Carolyn’s leadership qualities and big-sister-type guidance is something she’s held close the past couple years and has since implemented in the early clip of practices this season. On the other hand, Carolyn imbibes Jennifer’s “quiet dedication and insane work ethic” that’s she displayed since her freshman year.

Drawing from each other’s strengths, the sisters continue to soar to new heights and low times in the pool. In the three-day Franklin and Marshall Invitational Nov. 19-22, Carolyn set the Millersville program record in the 200 freestyle — one of five records broken by the Marauders that weekend — with a time of 1:54.65. Jennifer owns the 50, 100 and 200-free Cumberland Valley records, feats previously held by Carolyn.

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They’ve become each other’s cheerleader from afar.

“I think that it’s just a reflection of how hard we work,” Jennifer said, “because the times are great, but also to somebody that doesn’t swim or doesn’t understand swimming, they would look at the time and think, ‘Oh, that’s good. It’s a number.’ But actually what’s behind that number is all the hours of training and dedication and time [put in].”

The consistent drive and dedication is something Cumberland Valley head coach Mike Gobrecht noticed early on in both his swimmers. He said there’s much Carolyn and Jennifer mirror one another in, but they each carry their own set of characteristics as well.

Gobrecht said he was in awe of seeing Carolyn guide the Eagles when she was team captain. Jennifer is duplicating her sister’s leadership qualities in present time.

“They had great chemistry between the two of them,” Gobrecht said, “because sometimes when you have siblings on the team, one is always trying to like outdo the other one or outperform the other one. Whereas with Jennifer and Carolyn, it was more of a nurturing, meaning, Carolyn was really showing Jennifer, here’s how you get through high school swimming. ... And Jennifer was accepting that knowledge.”

“Those two, it was just such a great family dynamic.”

In the end, seeing each other succeed provides an unrivaled feeling of joy for Carolyn and Jennifer. Through their sister connection and unmatched support for one another, their love and passion for swimming continues to crest new horizons.

They do miss competing side by side and cheering each other on from the pool deck. But times like Wednesday night’s Zoom call, where they can look back on that 2018 season, reminisce and share laughs and smiles — it’s something they wouldn’t trade for anything.

Christian Eby is a sports reporter for The Sentinel and You can contact him at and follow him on Twitter at: @eby_sports


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