Madison Kennedy: Splash Dreams
BY MIKE WATKINS//Correspondent
As a teenager, Madison Kennedy aspired to one day be a National Team member largely for one reason.
"I remember reading Splash magazine when I was in high school, and there is a section for the upcoming birthdays of National Team members, Olympians, etc.," said Kennedy, now 23 and a recent graduate of the University of California Berkeley. "It was something so small, but I hoped I would one day be good enough to make a team and represent the United States."
These days, after a strong summer where she won silver at the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships and competed for the United States at Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships, her second senior-level international meet (2009 World University Games), Kennedy is living her dream come true.
She was named to the 2010-2011 National Team and will compete for the United States next summer at World Championships in Shanghai, China.
Oh, and for those of you who check those birthdays in Splash each issue, you can find Kennedy's name this coming December.
"Making the National Team means an opportunity to compete and represent your country, but it also allows me to meet the athletes and coaches I have looked up to since childhood," Kennedy said.
Her path to being one of the best sprint freestylers in the world began as a water baby at 18 months old. "Mom tells me I was laughing the whole time," Kennedy said.
In kindergarten, her mom, Jordana, asked her if she wanted to do ballet or gymnastics, and Madison decided to take a different path altogether.
"I obstinately replied, 'I want to swim!'" Kennedy said. "The closest anyone in my extended family has ever gotten to being water people is my dad, who is a hockey player and still plays three times a week at age 52. I mean, ice is water. It's just frozen water, right? I was put on my first team at age 4, and I'm pretty sure it was so my mom could catch a break from my hyperactivity."
An active, athletic kid, Kennedy played soccer in the fall, swam in the winter, played lacrosse in the spring and returned to swimming in the summer.
It wasn't until her freshman year at Rutgers that she committed herself and her energies exclusively to swimming year-round. But when it was announced after her sophomore year that the men's swimming program would be cut along with five other sports, Kennedy said she knew she needed to move quickly to decide her future.
"What a wake-up call that was," said Kennedy, referring to the happenings at Rutgers. "Suddenly, half of our team would have to choose to transfer or end their swimming careers. I swam in the sprint group, which was mostly men, and that would have proven detrimental to my training.
"I had the option to transfer, and I felt that I needed a drastic change if I wanted to make improvements. At that point, I was not at the level of Cal, but I was confident that I could be better. So I emailed (Cal Coach) Teri (McKeever), and here I am!"
Now that she's graduated with her degree in interdisciplinary studies, Kennedy said she plans to spend the next couple of years focusing on training for the 2012 Olympic Trials. She intends to return to school after 2012 to study marine biology – a fascination she's had since childhood.
"I was actually declared as a marine biology major at Rutgers, and my dream has always been to work with dolphins," said Kennedy, nicknamed Jaws by her dad since she got braces at age 13. "My transfer to Cal posed a slight issue as a major as specific as marine biology was not available. I decided that my interest in psychology would be best pursued at Cal, and I would wait to study marine research in graduate school."
For the time being, however, Kennedy said she has her sights set solely on her future – and opportunities – in swimming.
"My goal is to get as much racing experience as I can," Kennedy said. "The most improvement that I have made since 2008 Trials (finished 12th in the 50 freestyle) is my overall approach to my races. I didn't have any idea how to swim a smart race, and the concept of having the confidence to support your training is something my coaches have helped me to constantly improve.
"I am still star-struck when I race against the people whom I grew up admiring. Swimming has allowed me to see so many different places, and it's only the beginning. I am thankful every day that my 'job' is literally having fun, being in shape and traveling."