OAKLAND Being in the pool is second nature for 19-year-old Kendall Dawson.
After all, she has been swimming competitively — often six days a week — since she was 6 years old.
Dawson, an Oakland resident and recent Montverde Academy graduate, is a member of Fast Lane Aquatics and has trained under coach Alec Rukosuev since she was 9. Under his guidance, Dawson already has an extensive résumé. During her three years at Montverde, she placed second in the state in the 200-meter freestyle her senior year, she medaled each year in the 500-meter freestyle and was a state champion in the same event as a senior.
Now, Dawson is moving on to the collegiate level as she prepares to enter her freshman year at Arizona State University, where she will train under Olympian Michael Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman. She committed last fall and chose ASU over schools such as the University of Florida, Virginia, Louisville and Indiana.
“I fell in love with other schools, too, but I really liked ASU the most, with the campus, the set-up and the opportunities there with Michael Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman,” Dawson said. “I really saw it as a place where I could achieve what I wanted to do in swimming and academics.”
Phelps himself is returning to his stomping grounds to assist Bowman as a volunteer assistant coach for the Sun Devils.
According to ASU Now, Phelps said he is ready to share his wisdom of life in and out of the pool with the college swimmers.
Dawson may not be training directly under Phelps, because they compete in different races, but she will see him on the pool deck regardless. However, she knows the opportunity to train under Bowman will be valuable when reaching for her ultimate goal: the 2020 Olympic Games.
“The best chance I have (to make the Olympics) is probably in four years, so I’ll have four years under Bob Bowman, and we’ll see how much I improve,” she said. “I’m really confident that I’ll get better and that I’ll be trained really well under him. I want to get better at my strokes and my race mentality, how to go out differently in the race and to get a different perspective.”
Punching her ticket to the next Olympics isn’t out of reach, either: Her success in the water already landed her at the Olympic swimming trials in Nebraska this summer — her first taste of what it’s like to compete on a stage of that caliber.
There, she placed 82nd in the women’s 200 long-course meter freestyle and 40th in the 400 long-course meter freestyle.
“It was the coolest but scariest thing of my life, because they treat you like you’re an Olympian, and I’m used to smaller meets in Florida,” Dawson said. “They take you into a room before your event and line you up before they walk you out and you get announced behind the blocks.”
Her longtime coach recalled many times throughout their years of training together in which they went through rocky spots, particularly during Dawson’s early teenage years. But although she would sometimes leave practice, he said she always came back.
“We’ve been through thick and thin, and it’s not as easy as everyone thinks,” Rukosuev said. “I’ve had fast swimmers before her, but we have a trust in each other, and that really helps.”
He added that although training is important, so is getting her college degree. Although Dawson plans to spend time making gains in the pool, she is also focused on her academic career, studying psychology in hopes of one day becoming a sports psychologist.
“If Kendall stays healthy and focused, I believe she has a great chance to make it to the Olympics,” he said. “She has all the skills. It’s up to her to be successful.”
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected].