By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, January 13, 2017Kendyl Stewart is both excited about and a little unsure of what to expect now that she’s traded college All-American for post-collegiate professional swimmer.
Regardless, the natural change in perspective has given her cause for reflection – and motivation for improvement and more control of her swimming career.
“Swimming for USC (University of Southern California) was absolutely the best four years of my life so far, but I'm so excited for the next chapter,” she said. “It's empowering to be in total control of my swimming and know that I'm pursuing this purely for myself.
“I still love to come to the pool every day and am excited by the opportunities that may still lie ahead. I feel proud about that; I don't think that is something that everyone feels after 15 years in the sport.”
With her scholarship in the past, Stewart said she is supplementing the stipend she receives as a member of the 2016-17 U.S. National Team by working part-time with fellow USC alum Larsen Jensen at his swim clinic company.
She earned her degree in human biology with a minor in Spanish from USC this past spring and plans to explore some potential professional opportunities over the next year. She said she’s excited to try a few different jobs to establish her professional interests, alongside her training.
Stewart also is in the final stages of her recovery from mononucleosis diagnosed several months after she returned from Olympic Trials this summer. The fatigue of the disease kept her out of the water for a couple more months after having taken three months off following her third-place finish in the 100 butterfly in Omaha.
“I’m healthy now and training well, and I’m thankful for the amount of time I have recently spent away from the sport,” she said. “It's been refreshing to have a glimpse of life as a non-athlete and remember that swimming is still something that I’m passionate about and want to continue to pursue.”
Trials this summer were her third, and Stewart said she went into the meet knowing that she had learned from herKendyl Stewart (medium) experiences in 2008 and 2012 to make the meet as enjoyable as possible.
Knowing that it’s easy for her to get wrapped up in the intense pressure of a meet like Trials, she approached her events with a different mindset to benefit her performance – especially since she knew she had a very good shot at making the team after winning the 100 butterfly at 2014 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships and swimming well at the 2015 FINA World Championships the summer before.
“It’s corny, but all you can ever do is try your hardest, and that's what I did (at Trials),” she said. “Once I took that mindset, I had a blast and was really proud of my performances – a much different experience than I've had at Trials in the past. So overall, I was really pleased.”
Stewart admitted disappointment at coming so close to making the Rio Olympic team – top two finishers make the team – but said it wasn’t the end of the world for her.
Rather than allow it to ruin the rest of her summer or discourage her in the pool, she chose to look at the outcome as a learning experience – one that made her want to accomplish even more moving forward.
“Anyone I talk to always reacts to a third-place finish at Olympic Trials like it's the most horrible thing that could happen to a person,” said Stewart, who started swimming at 7 years old in coastal San Diego, so she would be water safe. “Obviously, I would have preferred the No.1 or No. 2 spot, but third place is pretty cool, too.
“I have not only become a much faster swimmer, but also smarter swimmer, in the past four years, and I see a lot of room for improvement still. It stings badly to come so close to a dream and fall short, but I see it as encouragement that I'm doing a lot of things right.”
Now that she’s back in the water training on a regular schedule, Stewart said she is looking forward to competition in 2017. Right now, she’s looking at competing at a few of the Arena Pro Swim Series events mixed with some local southern California meets.
And she’ll definitely be in Indianapolis in June for Phillips 66 Nationals to earn a spot on her second World Championship team.
In the meantime, while she’s continues her acclimation to professional status, Stewart said she’s been trying a little bit of everything – including adding some creativity to her life with art and photography.
She and her best friend started their own blog, she’s done a little bit of modeling and this week she’s commentating a broadcast for one of her alma mater’s dual meets.
It’s all part of her process of transitioning to continued success after college.
“In 2017, I'm really looking forward to seeing what swimming and life in general are like now that I'm done with school,” she said. “There's lots of unknowns for me at the moment – but that's exciting. It means there's tons of possibilities.
“I feel like I only started to scratch the surface of my potential in 2014 and that there's still some best times out there for me to grab, and some places around the world to see. I'm motivated daily by my teammates. Having strong friendships and fun during practice are cornerstones to my enjoyment of the sport, and I wouldn't be where I am without them.”
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