By the time Kennedy Noble steps on to the Millennium High School campus for her first day of her junior year next August, she will be returning from the chance almost every young swimmer dreams about.
Noble will be competing at the 2020 USA Swimming Olympic Team Trials, held in June in Omaha, Nebraska.
This is the event she grew up idolizing. Watching the reactions of the swimmers who achieved their dreams of qualifying for the Olympics was captivating. She made it a point to never miss it.
At the next trials, just weeks after Noble completes her sophomore year, she will have a chance to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. And she’ll do so against swimmers she grew up admiring.
“I actually cannot believe I’m going,” she said. “It’s really hard to get nervous or excited about it because I don’t believe I’m going.”
She’s not sure when exactly the reality of this will hit her. “Maybe afterward,” she laughed, “or maybe when I get there.”
Noble qualified for the Olympic Trials through a different set of qualifiers months ago. She will appear in two races in Omaha, the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke. She is working on becoming eligible for more.
Realistically, Noble acknowledges, her best chance at cracking the Olympic team looks more likely to happen in 2024 or 2028 rather than the summer of 2020. But as a 16-year-old high school sophomore, Noble isn't concerned about making it to the Olympics just yet, after all, it's only four years into her competitive swimming career and she knows she will be there soon enough. To qualify for the 2020 Olympics, she must finish first or second in any individual event she competes in.
“I’m using the 2020 Olympic Trials as a learning experience so I’m ready for the next eight years,” she said.
Perhaps no better learning experience than what Noble experienced in October, when she was selected as one of the 48 high school girls, from across the country, to be named for the USA Swimming’s National Select Camp.
The camp, a four-day stay at the Olympic Training Facility in Colorado Springs, served as a foreword of what to expect in Omaha next June.
Noble and the other participants were briefed on the daily routine of the National Team. They also practiced using the camp’s facilities and spoke with “top professionals about post-race recovery, psychological training skills, nutrition and stroke technique,” according to an email from Shelby Tuttle, director of Communications at Valley of the Sun YMCA and the home of Noble’s club swim team, the Westside Silver Fins.
“It was actually so amazing,” Noble said. “It was really cool because I got a good overview of what it’d be like if I made the Junior National Team or the National Team.”
The camp drilled the importance of uniting as one into the minds of the young swimmers, emphasizing how to create a team-first culture. Four dozen girls came in as complete strangers, the only commonality being their talents inside the pool.
And they left Colorado Springs as “sisters,” Noble said, still keeping in touch to this day.
“We stayed up every night in our dorm rooms at, like midnight, because we were so excited to tell our stories and our journeys about swim and what our lives are like in our hometowns and everything. It was so amazing to share it with other people.”
Despite the whirlwind of a year it’s been, from an Olympic Trial qualification to an invitation to the National Select Camp, Noble said she’s learned to balance it all with fun.
In just her second season at Millennium, Noble put on a clinic at the 2019 Division II State Swim Meet. She took first place in both the 100m backstroke and the 200m individual medley. She finished 5 seconds ahead of the second-place swimmer in the 200m IM.
“I think it went really well,” she said, a humble deflection.
Darian Townsend, Noble’s club coach, is a three-time Olympian swimmer who won a gold medal (2004 freestyle relay team).
“He has so much experience in this kind of stuff,” Noble said. “Just finding strategies or superstitions, almost, to make sure your mind is in the right place so you’re not freaking out. Think of these competitions of normal ones we do at home.”
One pointer from teacher to student: Chat with your competitors. They’ll appear less frightening, less intimidating, more human-like.
It’s worked in the past for Noble, so she’ll give it a whirl at the Olympic-level, against some of the swimmers she’s watched for years.
“The nerves will die down just because you’ve talked to them and you know, it’s, ‘Hey, you’re actually pretty friendly.’ They’re not mean, scary people.”
Noble wants to be a normal high school kid. Some of her closest friends have don't hav a clue about her swimming career, and that’s by design, she said. She doesn’t want any sort of special treatment just because she’s a talented swimmer.
“I don’t necessarily like everyone looking at me and that kind of stuff, which I know could happen. I want to be just a normal person at home and at school.”