Naperville native Kevin Cordes’ journey to becoming an Olympic swimmer all started with a little twist of fate.
As a 6-year-old boy, Cordes almost didn’t make it into his first swim camp.
“My parents signed me up at the last minute for a summer league at the park district,” he said.
But things didn’t start off as exciting as they’ve become for the young swimmer.
“I was a small, skinny kid so I was always freezing and I was sometimes, I’d get out of practice and be purple and blue and wouldn’t know why I was going through all this,” he said.
It wasn’t until his sophomore year of high school that Cordes discovered he may have a future in swimming.
That year, that he won a state championship, beating out the reigning champion from the year prior in the 100 breast stroke and dropping four seconds on his personal best.
“That first big moment where something good happened made me even hungrier and that’s really when I started to swim year-round,” he said. “Gave me that motivation, that confidence, that extra drive.”
Fast forward to 2016 and Cordes is now an Olympic swimmer, standing on a team besides some of his biggest idols and representing Team USA in Rio.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I kind of just try to put myself in my shoes when I was younger and when I would watch the Olympics and what that meant to me and what other people in the Olympics represented and how I looked up to them. It really hasn’t sunk in that I’m a part of that yet.”
But for Cordes, he’s never been what he considers a “traditional swimmer.”
“For me, I wasn’t a typical swimmer as in the old school kind of viewpoint,” he said. “I wasn’t as good at any of the other strokes besides breast stroke and some people might throw you aside because of that.”
And Cordes doesn’t train like others do either.
“He doesn’t train like a traditional athlete,” said his former coach from the Fox Valley Swim Club, David Krotiak. “The things that he did like train and still do to this day, he loved the dry land challenges and weight lifting.”
While it might seem strange to have an Olympic swimmer training outside the pool rather than in the water, Krotiak said it has benifitted the 22-year-old athlete.
“That’s what his stroke is based around is his alignment, his core strength and his leg strength,” Krotiak said. “He wasn’t a guy that was going to swim 22 100’s.”
Still, for Krotiak, he knew he had a potential star in Cordes from a young age.
“I think that from the very beginning when I started coaching Kevin I brought his dad in and said, ‘Hey, your son is just an amazing athlete and I usually don’t say this very often but at the least he’s going to be a national caliber-type athlete," he said.
But no one could have predicted the successes Cordes would go on to achieve.
“It’s absolutely a dream come true when you’re working with somebody and you see how hard they work and you always want the best for them,” Krotiak said. “It’s incredible.”
Much of that success, according to Cordes, comes from his love of competition.
“I love to race,” he said. “The competition of swimming is unlike any other.”
And heading to Rio, Cordes will have plenty of competition and supporters, including his family and Krotiak, as he races in his biggest competition yet.
“I think he’s one of the best swimmers in the world and best breast strokers in the world and he’s definitely in the conversation,” Krotiak said.
As for whether or not he can medal in the Rio Games, well, Cordes said he’s just focused on training for what's ahead.
“That would be amazing,” he said. “I don’t think there will be anything greater in our sport or anything than winning a medal, being able to stand up on the podium and see the flag be raised.”