High School Sports

State girls swimming: Kilgore family swimming tradition comes to a close

Kendall Kilgore, a senior at Trinity Academy, will complete in the Class 5-1A girls swim meet beginning Friday in Topeka.
Kendall Kilgore, a senior at Trinity Academy, will complete in the Class 5-1A girls swim meet beginning Friday in Topeka. Eagle correspondent

For the past two decades, the Kilgore family’s life has revolved around swimming. With brothers Evan and Christian and sisters Chesley and Kendall all competing, there usually was a meet on the weekend.

Their mother, Mary Jane, jokes that she’s quite certain her social life will end with Kendall’s graduation.

Kendall, a senior at Trinity Academy, will swim in the Class 5-1A meet on Friday and Saturday in Topeka. It will be the ninth straight state meet in which a Kilgore has competed.

“Once you’re a swimmer, you’re kind of in that family for life,” Mary Jane said. “… I’m going to still have to show up at some meets and (keep) time. Everyone has to time. That’s what swim families do.”

2 Golds won by Christian

5Golds won by Chesley

1Gold won by Kendall

Kendall, who will swim for the Air Force Academy, was introduced to swimming as an infant. While her siblings swam, she was in her car seat.

“It’s helpful being the fourth child because she watched her other siblings do it,” Trinity coach Carla Jones said. “I think she’s seen her siblings and how they’ve had to work hard to do well. She’s a hard worker, and she’s got the dedication and the commitment to the sport.”

Growing up in a swimming family usually meant the Kilgores traveled to Texas, Nebraska and Florida for family vacations. Sight-seeing was crammed around time in the pool.

It was Evan, now 28, who started swimming initially. While he swam in high school at the Wichita Swim Club, Collegiate didn’t have a high school team.

Christian, 24, followed, but Independent didn’t have a team until his sophomore season, when he was the school’s lone state representative. He won the 2010 5-1A 200-yard individual medley and the 100 breaststroke when he was a senior.

He swam at Georgetown, where he became the university’s first gold-medal winner at the Big East Conference meet.

“There was never a moment that I remember all four of us kids swimming at a meet,” Christian said. “Rather it was a grouping of the two, whether it was Evan and me, or myself and Chesley, or Kendall and Chesley. There was always a different story or slant on it.

“There was always another Kilgore coming up through the ranks and going to be there in a couple of years for us.”

Chesley, 21, was next, and she won the 5-1A 50 freestyle in 2010, 2011, and 2013. She won the 100 twice and took second twice.

She swam for a season at Georgetown, but severe back pain ended her career.

The transition to life without competitive swimming was difficult.

“I learned so much from swimming,” Chesley said. “It molded me and shaped me, taught me responsibility and to work as hard as I ever had and be committed.

“One thing I had to realize is my identity isn’t fully in that sport. I need to go find my identity. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me.”

Kendall won the 100 free last season. She has three top three finishes in the 50 free, finishing second behind Chesley in 2013.

Kendall enters the 5-1A meet seeded fourth in the 100 free (56.59 seconds). She is seeded second in the 50 free (25.07 seconds) behind teammate Taylor Kostboth, who won the 50 free in 2015.

I know if I put (Kendall) last in the relay, and we’re behind, I have confidence she’ll catch us up.

Carla Jones, Trinity Academy coach

Watching her siblings’ experiences, Kendall saw what to expect through club swimming and in high school. She had been to the state meet and she had a stable of family members to give advice and encourage as she has dealt with her own obstacles.

“You have a huge support system for you,” Kendall said. “You’re learning from their experiences and they’re by your side through it all.”

Kendall developed bicep tendonitis last season. The pain stretched across the front of her shoulders, and she wasn’t even sure she could swim at the 2015 state meet.

“I was really forced to learn how to cope with my injuries, to work through and go beyond the pain,” Kendall said. “It was not only a physical roadblock, but also mentally. I had to adjust and fight through and tell myself, ‘I can do this.’ 

She searched for ways to take the pressure off her shoulders and found a way to improve her kicking.

“It caused me to really focus on that, and it made me a better swimmer,” Kendall said.

And through it all, her siblings sent encouraging texts or talked about how she needs to stay positive.

Christian will send me texts saying, ‘Kendall, I’m just so excited for you and for the future.’ Sometimes when I get down, he’ll just be there and say, ‘hey, keep your head up. You’re talented.’ He’s just always been by my side.

Kendall Kilgore

“When you are competing at such a high level, you can be hard on yourself because you want to be the best,” Chesley said. “You want the payoff, the reward at the end. ‘Oh, I’ve got to fix my turn, my start’ or ‘my arm’s going too high.’

“… You also need someone who says, ‘You’re doing this great. Let’s zero in on this and use it to our advantage.’ I can speak truth to what she’s going through, give her peace about what she’s feeling.”

Kendall’s ultimate goal is to enjoy her final state swim meet with her teammates, while also doing what she can for the team.

She didn’t mention winning.

“I think I’m most focused on beating my own times and just going against myself. I don’t want to get wrapped up too much in it. I have a lot of competition ahead of me,” she said.

But it would be nice to cap her career with another victory.

“It’s crazy to think that she’s the last of us, and she’s coming into the state meet as a leader,” Christian said. “She’s putting a storybook ending to her career and finishing off on a high note.

“She’s worked so hard and got through the ups and downs. That’s really the tale of her career.”

Joanna Chadwick: 316-268-6270, @joannachadwick

State girls swimming

When: 10 a.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: Capitol Federal Natatorium, Topeka