Kaki Christensen has earned her first college swimming All-America honor, finishing eighth in the 200-yard breaststroke at the 2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships.

The Darien native, who is currently a freshman at the University of Virginia, finished the race with a time of 2:08.74. She also competed in the 100-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard individual medley at the championships, which were held March 20-23 at the Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center in Austin, Texas.

Swimmers qualified for the championships by meeting a minimum time set by the NCAA, with 281 swimmers competing. The Virginia Cavaliers team finished sixth overall in the team standings.

The meet capped off what has been an outstanding year for the rookie college athlete. Although only a freshman, Christensen already has the second fastest time in Virginia history in the 200-yard breaststroke, and fourth fastest in the 100-yard breaststroke.

Her college success comes on the heels of a stellar high school career, where Christensen set state records, was a high school All-State and All-American honoree, and was named Connecticut’s 2017 Female Athlete of the Year.

For Christensen, the fourth of five children, success in the swimming pool runs in the family. Her father, Bob, swam breaststroke for Princeton, and her brother Lee was a diver for Duke. Inspired by their successes, Christensen began swimming around age 10, quickly establishing herself as a champion junior swimmer.

Christensen swam for Chelsea Piers Aquatic Club until her junior year of high school, when she decided to switch to the Darien High School swim team.

“Everyone had always raved about how much fun it is, and I had never been on a team before; it was always very individual so I thought it would be a fun idea to have more fun with swimming,” Christensen said. “And it was really fun — I think that the team is great and it definitely got me more excited for college, because I had to swim for something bigger than myself. Coach (Marj) Trifone does a very good job and they created a very good family. It was the highlight of my junior year.”

In order to better manage the pressures of training and college recruiting, however, Christensen decided to return to Chelsea Piers for her senior year, ultimately committing to swim for the Cavaliers.

“It’s the classic response of ‘It was the perfect balance between academics and athletics,’” Christensen said of her college decision. “But at the same time I felt very comfortable because I saw a lot of Darien in UVA, and I thought I would be able to fit in really well and be able to handle the academics and swimming aspect of it.”

Still, despite her high school success, Christensen was surprised to find herself finishing at the NCAA Championships as a finalist and All-American.

“I was warming down and my coach came up and said to me, ‘Oh yeah you made top eight’ — and I was so shocked because I actually didn’t think I would be able to do it,” she said. “I thought the NCAAs were really fast, and I guess I was not really understanding my capabilities, but I just thought that I was going to get maybe top 16. Then the last heat finished and I was top eight, and I was just confused because I didn’t think my first year I would be doing that well or placing that high.”

Christensen hopes that her strong freshman season is only the beginning.

“Being a first year it was definitely the experience that I wanted to get, and it was definitely really fun and eye-opening, and also made me want to work harder because I saw how fast these people could be and it motivated me to want to go faster,” Christensen said. “And keep going.”