SwimmingAt 23, Alabama’s Kensey McMahon Thrilled for Team USA Pool Debut

At 23, Alabama’s Kensey McMahon Thrilled for Team USA Pool Debut

At 23, Alabama’s Kensey McMahon Thrilled for Team USA Pool Debut

Kensey McMahon got the call before she saw the email. The reply went out about as quick as humanly possible.

McMahon’s coach at the University of Alabama, Margo Geer, had seen the email inviting McMahon to be part of Team USA for the 2022 FINA Short-Course World Championships in Melbourne in December. McMahon was between classes and hadn’t seen the message ping into her inbox. But as soon as Geer notified her, McMahon speed-read the email to the RSVP if interested part and fired off her reply immediately, just in time to ring her parents for an ecstatic and tear-filled call.

“She (Geer) was like, congrats,” McMahon said last week. “And I was like wait, let me go check my email to read about it. And immediately I responded yes. Any time you get to represent Team USA, it’s definitely an honor.”

Kensey McMahon; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Worlds will be McMahon’s first international event in the pool. She represented the U.S. at the World Championships last summer in the open water competition, but to make her debut in the pool at age 23 is something special.

That age, which McMahon turns Oct. 29, isn’t old for a swimmer. But for a female distance swimmer, it may seem slightly advanced. That’s been the recent domain of teenage prodigies like Katie Ledecky, Katie Grimes, Ariarne Titmus and Summer McIntosh.

But McMahon has followed a slightly different path. The native of Jacksonville, Fla., and product of Bolles School Sharks club program, she’s hardly an unknown. She was a member of USA Swimming National Junior team three times from 2016-19 and a two-time Speedo Junior National Champion in the pool. She swam for Team USA at the Open Water World Junior Championships in 2016 and 2018.

She’s a three-time senior national teamer in the 1,500, dating back to 2019-20, her freshman year at Alabama. At U.S. Olympic Trials in 2021, she made the final of the 1,500, finishing eighth, and just missed out on the finals in the 400 and 800 free.

That’s an impressive resume, but adding a Worlds spot in the pool is special.

“I would say there’s definitely a different feeling,” McMahon said. “Open water has opened a lot of doors for me and I love it, but it’s just a different kind of beast”

Like McMahon’s approach to a distance event, her career has been a steady build. She’s in her fifth year at Alabama, where she holds program records in the 500, 1,000 and 1,650 free. (A public relations major, McMahon interned for Swimming World last summer.)

McMahon started her career strong at Alabama, finishing seventh in the 1,650 free at NCAAs in 2019. She dropped 20 seconds off her best time in the 1,500 free at nationals that summer, finishing second and landing on the national team for the first time.

She won the SEC championship in the mile in 2020 and was seeded second at NCAAs, only to see it called off by the encroaching COVID-19 pandemic. She earned All-America honors that year in both the 1,650 and 500 free, but she felt the momentum she was building in the college pool blunted by the pause in competition.

“It’s definitely been a process,” she said. “My whole swimming career has been a lot about patience and trusting the hard work that I’m putting in but knowing that the hard work does pay off, but it just takes some time.”

She continued to excel after the interruptions. She finished sixth in the mile and 10th in the 500 free at NCAAs in 2021, then took silver medals in both at SECs in 2022 before improving to third in the 1,650 and seventh in the 500 at 2022 NCAAs.

She parlayed that into a successful summer, with bronze medals in the 400, 800 and 1,500 at nationals. She earned the spot in Budapest for Worlds, where she placed 10th in the 25-kilometer swim.

McMahon will have Crimson Tide company in Melbourne, with Rhyan White also on the team. The Tokyo Olympian, who was the first Alabama women’s swimmer to earn a spot on a U.S. Olympic delegation, took fourth place in both backstroke events in 2021 and added silver in the medley relay.

“I called her after I found out and she got super excited and was thrilled for me as I was for her,” McMahon said. “It’s a really small group for Team USA, so to have someone that I don’t train directly with but I train with every day, it’s going to be like home.”

Beyond the international experience, open water has opened McMahon to new ideas. She’s gleaned a lot from the mentorship of Haley Anderson and Ashley Twichell, Olympians in the 10k in Tokyo. Both have enjoyed success well into their late 20s and 30s, a lesson that McMahon takes with her. She credits them with reinforcing her belief that best times can come at any age.

“It definitely feels a little bit weird but it’s really cool to see that I don’t think there is an age that you have to peak at,” she said. “Everyone has a completely different journey, and just being able to trust the process that I’ve gone on over the years – I know that I did swim well at junior nationals and was on the junior national team in high school and was always craving more, so to kind of follow those patterns of, here’s where I’m at and keep building up and see what opportunities there are, and trying to better myself every day.”

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