Over a 12 month period Kendall (Year 11B) slashed nine seconds off her best race time for the 100m breaststroke … but missed qualifying for a spot on the Australian Paralympic Team for Rio 2016 by less than one second. Kendall may not be competing in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games when they start on 7th September, but she will be watching her favourite event with great interest and considering what may have been. Her journey over the past 12 months has been staggering, inspiring and very real. In a sport ruled by milliseconds, Kendall sure knows how to make every minute of her life count.
In April 2015, Kendall started her quest for Rio 2016 Paralympic qualification. What followed was a gruelling schedule of training (nine swimming sessions a week), physiotherapy, nutrition monitoring, gym sessions, stretching, massage therapy, school and competitive swim meets. A hiccup with a restrictive swimming suit saw doubts creep in, as every millimetre, millisecond and meal was proving the difference between efficiency and performance. Each training session had a special focus, whether it be race pace (race skills practice), aerobic training (long, steady and controlled swimming), or threshold intensity (swimming with minimum rest). In the final stages of her 12 month preparation she actually swam the requisite qualifying time during training, so her prospects were looking very good.
However, when her final qualifying event came, the 2016 Hancock Prospecting Australian Championships in April 2016, multiple factors conspired and Kendall faced the harsh reality of national selection. Nerves, an electric atmosphere, a crowded marshalling area, rubbing shoulders with Australia’s greatest Olympians, and televised races at night all took their toll. Less than one second was the difference between qualifying and not. A chance to don the green and gold in Rio was lost. Then some dark weeks followed, when a pool could bring no joy, no smiles and no rewards.
Now, after some quality rest, time to debrief and time to reflect, Kendall puts things into perspective because the significance of losing nine seconds over a 12 month period outweighs the one second that cut her Paralympic dream short in 2016.
“I was completely shattered that night and never wanted to step foot in a pool again, until three weeks later when I was missing it so much! I’m only 16 and there’s always next time. If things don’t work out the first time, try again. This helps to prepare you for things in life that don’t always go your way and helps you to develop resilience.”
Currently ranked seventh in the world for 50m breaststroke (Sb9) and 10th in the world for 100m breaststroke (Sb9), and holding Australia Age records for both events, Kendall has earned some epic stripes this year. She has lived the regimen of an elite athlete and accessed world’s-best training facilities during National squad camps at the AIS – a real eye-opener for this teenager.
“We trained six hours a day for the week. We had medical scans, ECGs (heart tests), lactic acid tests, massages, physiotherapy, sports psychologist and sports scientist consultations. All of this helped with the various elements that make up an elite athlete’s wellbeing, technique and race planning. We even had our sleep monitored by wearing electronic wristbands.”
Preparing for a Paralympic qualification in the pool was by no means a solo effort. Kendall is full of praise for her support team, each member taking on different roles in motivation, emotional support, positive energy and technical know-how.
“My team included Paul (swimming coach), Craig (physiotherapist), Liam (nutritionist), Nick (sports masseur), Mum and Dad and my sister. My friends at NU Swim Club, school friends, people at Variety Children’s Charity, competitors and staff within Swimming Australia squads who have become friends over time all helped me every day as I tried to qualify. Dad was pretty helpful offering me incentives for good results, including a chocolate shake or a pair of new compression tights if I improved my times at different competitions. Thanks Dad!”
The experience of attempting to qualify for the Paralympics was surreal. Kendall admitted that she’s not a morning person and “could be quite grumpy”, with all of the 4.00am wakeups, not to mention a strict protein and carbohydrate-controlled eating plan, with all meals logged into a nutrition app.
“Looking back on the past year it’s all a bit of a blur. Now I’m only training four times a week and getting some more sleep. Things are feeling great.”
Kendall reflects on the freedom she felt to dream big and set a big goal such as Paralympic qualification.
“Anything is possible when you’re young, if you have support, are determined and the dream is realistic. Goals help keep you focused on what’s important, and let you make the greatest use of each day. Dreams force you out of your comfort zone and power you to achieve more than you would have without them. For me my swimming goals, like my other life goals, allowed me to control some of my destiny by taking an active role in the outcomes of my life.”
Kendall has been selected for both junior and senior Australian Paralympic Swim Team “long lists” for “Road to Tokyo 2020” camps. She is a real prospect for making an Australian Swim Team in the near future. Next stop for Kendall is a National Schools championships in Darwin this September, and then the cycle begins all over again for State and National Championships. Kendall’s got some new experiences to draw on, and time is certainly on her side. After that? Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games is a possibility. Tokyo 2020 is a possibility.
In Kendall’s words, “Keep trying as one moment in time doesn’t define what you can do. Keep going until you are completely satisfied that you did your personal best. In the end all you can really do is your best.”
We’re sure that this is just the beginning of Kendall’s long and distinguished path as a high performing athlete, and mature young adult.