Video and Q&A: Kim Vandenberg talks to Madison Kennedy

Courtesy of Excelle Sports

Madison Kennedy is on the top of her game. Last Friday night at the Mesa Pro Swim, Madison Kennedy raced her way to the #1 time in the U.S. in the 50m Freestyle and the 6th time in the world this year in a time of 24.45. At 28 years of age, she swam her lifetime best in the race and is as strong as ever leading into the U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials this upcoming June.

After just missing the Olympic team in 2012, Kennedy has since gained valuable International experience by winning a silver medal at the 2014 Pan American Games in the 400m Freestyle Relay and three relay medals in the 2014 Short Course World Championships in Doha. Last summer, Kennedy won a U.S. National Title in the 50m Freestyle and was third in the 100m Freestyle. Her results are proof that she has found her sweet spot in her swimming career. If she keeps these rankings at Olympic Trials, she will no doubt qualify for the Rio Olympic Games. Kennedy is clearly in control of herself and has followed a vision true to her path in the water.

Growing up on a farm in Connecticut, she developed a solid work ethic through her strong family values and fell in love with the water at a young age. She credits her success to her parents who supported her love for swimming; “My parents gave me tools to be self-sufficient, confident and happy, but taught me that nothing comes easily or without hard-work or scrubbing floors and mucking stalls. They have given my sisters and I such a wonderful life” It’s true, the Kennedy family is full of life, I had the pleasure to spend a weekend with them in Connecticut years ago after a swim event that Madison and I worked at together. They welcomed me into their home as if I was part of their tribe and I remember laughing almost the entire time I was visiting.

Madison and I have known each other for many years through the sport of swimming. We were roommates at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico and continued to room together at swim meets throughout Europe and at the U.S. National Championships in Indianapolis. Her energy is contagious and colorful, just like her hair. She is known for changing her hair color from shades of bright pink, orange, and blue hues. Her vibrant personality and speed in the pool have been attracting attention and well deserved respect as we approach the selections for the Rio Olympic Games. I had the joy of interviewing or borderline stalking Madison in Mesa, Arizona during the Arena Pro Swim Competition April 14-16.

Madison Kennedy. (Kim Vandenberg photo)

VANDENBERG: What is your game plan for Olympic Trials, can you take us through your training regime?

KENNEDY: As we head into the final weeks before Trials, I find myself alternating between excitement and anxiety – we compete at a national and international level several times a year, but the weight placed upon one specific meet, held every 4 years can be overwhelming at best. That being said (more like reluctantly admitted), this time holds all the possibilities we beg for as athletes. Now is my time to enjoy the body and mind that has been created, honed and tested by my coaches, competitors and myself. I think that is what I have forgotten in the past, to breathe past my nerves and instead hold on to the gratitude and respect for all the people and moments that lead me HERE. My plan for Trials is a calm, steady press; gain strength, maintain endurance and refine speed. This is the fun part! No matter the outcome, there is a definite thrill in the preparation, a desire to live the important days, and a certain peace in knowing that I am living such a special life.

VANDENBERG: What did you learn from the 2012 Olympic Trials and the past 4 years leading up to this point in your swimming career?

KENNEDY: “The past four years” how interesting that we swimmers tell time, measure our lives and exist in 4 year increments. What will you remember about your last 4 years, or the 4 before that? It is quite common to hear people say, “I hardly recognize the person I was a few years ago”, in reference to dramatic life changes. Instead of discarding the disappointments and short-comings of my previous years, I have learned to keep the person I was in 2012 with me, fresh in my mind and ready to weigh in on my present day decisions. I like myself; at the risk of sounding desperately self-involved, I enjoy the person I am becoming and I am eternally grateful to any sadness and happiness that my younger self experienced.

I am actually proud to say that I am learning what I need, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that I did it all on my own. I am better at asking from my coaches, family, partner and friends what I know they are capable of giving me. So much of my emotional discomfort and frustration came from my stubborn desire to have people be exactly what I thought they should. It took me letting go of these ideals, these perfect versions of my coaches specifically, to realize that my feelings toward them or a situation was created by me, good, bad or ugly. People can only give to you what they are capable of giving, and to ask anything more from them will only make YOU frustrated. I’m not always able to see things as clearly, as quickly, but I am much better at removing emotion from situations. This has been liberating in terms of training, at the mental and physical level. I feel more in control of my SELF, and that has been the beginning of my improvements in strength training and refining my racing strategy.

Kim Vandenberg and Madison Kennedy. (Kim Vandenberg photo)

VANDENBERG: Who are your role models?

KENNEDY: My life has been a pretty lucky one, and I say that with the gratitude that comes with knowing people that don’t have it as good. I grew up in a family of hard-working, happy and genuine people and I went on to meet a man who brings the same qualities to our relationship. As cliché as it sounds, I cannot begin to summarize the quality of life that my parents gave to my sisters and me. As I get older, I realize that MY life is a reflection of their years of commitment to each other and to their children. My love for swimming, and all the beautiful things brought to me by this sport, represents a child that grew up so supported and so loved, that even a missed time or lost race was a stepping stone to right now. To clarify, neither my swimming career nor childhood was without tears, fights and being (eternally) grounded. My parents gave me tools to be self-sufficient, confident and happy, but taught me that nothing comes easily or without hard-work or scrubbing floors and mucking stalls. They have given my sisters and I such a wonderful life, without sacrificing their own happiness or relationship, often going against “what they should do” or “what everyone else does”. I may not accomplish all that I have set out to do in the sport, but I do know that I have swam and trained with the determination and resilience that was instilled in me, day after day, by my mom and dad.

VANDENBERG: What do you believe to be your biggest strength as an athlete and what is your biggest weakness?

KENNEDY: Strengths and weaknesses, something that I have been asked to determine and discuss on more than one occasion. Different stages of my life have called for different answers, and it is an interesting thing to consider about how I perceive myself. I have had more than one person in my life call me stubborn, and it’s taken me until age 28 to stop being offended by it. I am not arrogant enough to believe that I am always right, but I will stick by a decision that I believe is the best one for me. In order for me to be successful, in my athletic career and beyond, I need to believe in my path. In the past 4 years, that path has looked different and has been met with considerable pushback. I think that as young athletes we are conditioned to see training not a conversation, but is instead about implicitly following direction. As I continue to train, I place more value on my mental engagement and belief in my process, over receiving validation in doing something more traditional.

Madison Kennedy and Kim Vandenberg. (Kim Vandenberg photo)

VANDENBERG: Favorite Memory from the sport of swimming?

KENNEDY: I’ve been swimming for 24 years, where do I even start? I think my favorite memory is the actually the feeing of swimming itself. The memories that I have associated with swimming are not necessarily vivid and specific; it’s more the feeling, the body remembering pure happiness and ease. My fondest memories are not of a specific swim or competition, but are of the people I have met through my years on a pool deck. My favorite friends are people I only get the pleasure of seeing a few times a year, usually at a competition! Kim, my sweet friend, you are surely one of my favorite swimming experiences. You are light, in human form; kind and so easy to be around. We have had good swims and bad swims, but those accomplishments and heartaches aren’t what I remember when I think of our times spent together. Thank you for being my biggest fan, always! I am so grateful to the sport that has brought me such a sense of self, satisfaction and peace. My memories of best times, races won or lost and people met, all of those make up the one large memory that is SWIMMING.

VANDENBERG: Favorite Quote or Life Mantra?

KENNEDY: “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

As athletes, we are constantly in motion – learning, evolving, growing, changing. Sometimes, these changes don’t take us in the direction that we want to go, but that is sport, and the ability to withstand and develop is what it means to be a professional in using your own body. Once you experience success or failure, a positive or negative outcome, it is yours.

Excelle Sports associate editor Kim Vandenberg is an Olympic bronze medalist, Pan American gold medalist, World Championship silver medalist and three-time U.S. national champion and French national champion in swimming. She’s also a member of Excelle’s Athletes Council.

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Swimming News is courtesy of Excelle Sports and Mutual of Omaha BREAKOUT Swim Clinic, a SwimSwam partner.

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