USC has an Olympic hopeful in their midst in senior swimmer Kendyl Stewart, who owns four school records, two Pac-12 titles and a world record. Stewart has embraced her passion for swimming with a mentality that has allowed her to keep her sport in perspective while always striving to achieve more.
Swimming, an individual sport, is not always known for the camaraderie surrounding it, but for Stewart, her teammates at USC have shown her what being part of a team is all about.
“Coming to USC has given me a refreshing look at the sport,” Stewart said. “I think it’s so fun to have something where you score points not really for yourself, but for the whole group. To be a team captain for a couple years and begin to understand that my actions are what set the tone for the group has been empowering and motivating.”
Not that Stewart needs any additional motivation. The senior is a record-holder in four events for USC: the 100y fly, the 200y back and two relay records. The accomplishments and accolades do not end there, however.
Stewart is the two-time Pac-12 champion in 100y fly.
She is also an eight-time All-American.
She placed third in her best event the 100y fly in the 2015 NCAA championships while lowering her school record for the event.
Stewart swam in four events for Team USA at the 2015 FINA World Championships which included a silver medal in the 400m mixed medley relay team — a team that also broke the world record during the preliminary rounds.
The only glaring absence on Stewart’s swimming resume is an Olympic appearance. Though Stewart hasn’t yet made the Olympic squad, she is hopeful that this may be her year, and she is no stranger to Olympic qualifying, having already competed for a position on Team USA twice.
“In 2008 I was there, and I was 13, and I was just there for fun. There was no way that was going to happen, but it was the most incredible thing ever to see Olympians and people that I’d been watching on TV,” Stewart said. “In 2012, it was exciting, but it still wasn’t really expected of me, and it wasn’t that positive of an experience because it was this super pressurized and intense thing.”
Stewart is feeling more confident about her chances of making the team this year from both a swimming and mental standpoint.
“I’m definitely in the best position that I’ve been in for the team this time around,” Stewart said. “I just try to keep the pressure out of it and focus on myself and why I like to swim and the personal journey instead of focusing on competitors or the outcome because there’s nothing you can do to control other people.”
Stewart has an attitude about her that is very low-key, and she prides herself on being able to keep the role that swimming plays in her life in perspective.
“If you think about it, it’s just swimming up and down a pool, so to put more stress on it doesn’t really seem worth it,” Stewart said. “Swimming has never been the main stress in my life, where I met my best friends and given me the opportunity to travel the world, and I don’t think that many of my peers have the opportunities that I’ve been given.”
Of the many opportunities swimming has given Stewart, it has taken her to nine countries: Sweden, Germany, Spain, Scotland, Russia, Peru, Australia and Croatia.
Stewart’s favorite international experience was two summers ago in Australia, the year her international swimming career really took off. She dropped two seconds off her 100y fly time and qualified for, as she put it, her first “big girl” international meet.
For Stewart, though, it wasn’t just a highlight because of what took place in the pool.
“There were four or five of my best friends there, and it happened to be during my birthday, and I was able to stay longer there,” Stewart said. “So it was a perfect alignment of the stars, the people that I was closest to were able to be where I had the meet.”
For Stewart, it is all about having a good time with the people she is closest to and reminding herself that while swimming doesn’t make the world turn. It has brought her a lot of joy and success over the 14 years that she has been swimming. USC has been an instrumental part in her achieving that mindset.
“Since coming to [USC], I’ve broken out on the international scene with USA swimming, and success is a main motivating force,” Stewart said. “With the Olympics coming up and coming back from World Championships, that’s been something that is pretty exciting.”
With Stewart’s final season ready to begin, she has already given thought to what her post-graduation plans will be.
“I hope to just, for a bit, stay here and swim,” Stewart said. “Even if I make the Olympics this summer, I don’t think I’ve reached my full potential as an athlete, I still think there’s a lot to learn. I still like it and I think it can bring me opportunities to travel and hopefully make some money. I hope to play that out as long as I can.”