Swimming To The Next Level

By Kensey McMahon

Parents always remember their kids’ first words and steps. My parents, they also remember my first swim.

I grew up in Florida and had a pool in my backyard. At a very young age, I learned how to swim and instantly fell in love with being in aquatic environments. I was half-kid, half-fish, and born with a competitive nature.

When I was five years old, my parents did the only reasonable thing at that point – they signed me up for my first summer league. From the get-go, there was something about the sport that immediately captivated me. Not sure if it was the competition or the friendships the sport has brought me, but swimming took over my life. In a good way…

After the 2008 Olympics, being inspired by the American swimmers, I decided to take it to the next level and joined a well-known club team. 

Warm Weather And Support

Club swim helped me improve in just about every way possible. It helped me develop my technical skills, but also my life skills.

And after many years of training and some achievements along the way, it hit me that I could swim at the collegiate level as well. 

My recruiting process was pretty normal. I got some mail, had some phone calls, and took some visits. Nothing out of the ordinary. But being a Florida girl, I knew I needed my warm weather, so I wanted to go somewhere in the SEC.

Alabama actually caught my eye pretty late in the recruiting process. It wasn’t until Denny Pursley, our former head coach, came to Jacksonville to watch me swim that I really began to consider them. He encouraged me to come look at the campus and once I did, I knew exactly that this is the place for me.

Alabama doesn’t just have a beautiful campus, you know? During my visit, I got to tour the facilities and meet with all sorts of people from the athletic department. I learned about the Life Skills department, volunteering opportunities, availability of tutors, and so much more. The things Alabama offers to its student-athletes simply blew me away.

Also, I believe that going from high school to college is arguably the biggest change young athletes face. Everything is just so different. 

So, I wanted to embrace that difference by choosing a program with different scenery & people so that I could grow as a person, but still that made me feel comfortable and at home at the same time. 

And as cliché as it may sound, Alabama simply felt right all the way. There was this sense of “home” here — something I deeply valued.

So, thank you, Alabama.

As happy as I am, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride. With progress comes change. And this year, my team and I had to deal with a lot of adjustments.

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And as cliché as it may sound, Alabama simply felt right all the way. There was this sense of "home" here — something I deeply valued.

A New Coach… Again

First up, coaching changes.

Since I’ve began my journey at Alabama, I’ve had three major coaching changes. And, to be frank, it causes a lot of uncertainty. We’ve been fortunate that each coach has pretty much picked up where the last one left off. But you never know for sure what your relationship will be like with a new coach.

It’s so important to build trust and communicate with your coach. You all have to be on the same page. Everyone has to be all-in. 

But trusting a new coach can be a challenge. You don’t know how they’re going to run the team, or what their workouts will be like.

Throughout all of this, I’ve learned how important it is to be honest with your coaches. They’re doing everything they can to do what’s best for you and the team.

At the same time though, no one knows your body the way you do. So, speaking up and sharing with the coaches how certain workouts impact your body, for example, is critical. And I’m glad I’m in a position now where I can do that. There is this mutual respect that just sets us up for great success.

Our athletes and staff are all meshing well together and out future is bright.

From Open Water To The Pool

My second adjustment came in the water.

For the past four years, I’ve been doing 10k’s in open water and enjoyed a lot of success. Open water swimming is pure racing in a far less-controlled environment than the pool. These races can take place in rivers, lakes, or even the ocean. You have to be able to adapt to things like the water temperature, the quality of the water, and even the crowd you’re racing with. More or less, you swim in conditions you just can’t control. It’s a very physical competition and just a big, “lovely” mess.

But nonetheless, I was always most comfortable in open water. I even made the National Junior Team three years in a row for open water. But now, I’m in a whole different environment. Because, well, I’m actually in a pool.

I’ve shifted my focus from open water races to pool distance races after coming up short at the US Open Water Nationals this May. 

In my mind, I was set on traveling the world this summer, representing team USA in open water. But in reality, I had to adjust to the new plan of summer school and summer training, including a two-hour commute each day to get long-course lane space to prepare for Nationals.

My perseverance through a difficult summer actually gave me new confidence. I was able to show that confidence in my races at the US Nationals this July & August. I finished 8th in the 400m free, 4th in the 800m free, and 2nd in the 1,500m free with a time that ranked me 16th in the world this year.

Just three years ago, I barely made the top 100 in the same event. 

And best of it all, for the first time in my life, I earned a spot on the US National Team, not the Junior Team, the actual US National Team with that runner-up performance.

To be on the same roster as some of the best athletes in the world is so incredibly humbling and motivating.

My Mindset

The best part about swimming for Alabama and the US National Team is the people I do it with. The ones you surround yourself with can really make all the impact in the world.

I remember when I was in 8th grade, for example, ready to compete in the 800m freestyle at the biggest meet I’ve ever been to. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. I was the youngster competing against all of these high schoolers. But, as I lined up on the blocks, I noticed all of my teammates rooting for me and cheering me on. And I ended up having the best race of my life.

It’s what makes this sport so amazing.

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The best part about swimming for Alabama and the US National Team is the people I do it with. The ones you surround yourself with can really make all the impact in the world.

Looking To The Future

I try to do the same for my teammates today; cheering for them, writing and sharing words of encouragement, and leading by example through my actions and work ethic. Being positive, encouraging, and “real” goes a long way. 

I hope my leadership will inspire all of my teammates. We have a lot of talent this year and I think we can compete for the SEC Championship. 

To help with that goal, I continue to push myself to be the best I can be. Not just in the pool, but also as a teammate, and in the classroom. 

I’m confident that all of these actions put me in the best-possible position to achieve my ultimate dream – to represent Alabama and the USA in the Olympics one day.

But until then, Roll Tide!

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