Kate Steward: A Change of Perspective

Swimming doesn’t define Kate Steward.

While the Jayhawk Junior has a strong passion for the sport, deciding not to “take it all so seriously” was a massive turning point in Kate’s career.

Kate describes this change of perspective as one of the most important reasons for her great success. However, Kate is also adamant that people don’t mistake her ‘new’ attitude for lack of work.

Quite the opposite.

For Kate, everything starts with hard work.

“I work my butt off and always give 100%. Frankly, I’m a strong believer that your work ethic lays the foundation for future success,” she said. “Nonetheless, putting so much pressure on my shoulders really didn’t do me any good. I swim better without it. It allows me to perform how I think I can perform. It pulls me away from that mental state of feeling like I have to be perfect all the time.”

Kansas Jayhawks

The family legacy

Today, Kate sees a lot of success in the water. Multiple conference titles and many other great accolades can be found on her resume. What might seem like a journey that was forged from the get-go, Kate never expected herself to be in this position.

“If you told the middle school version of myself that I’d be swimming at the University of Kansas and making the cut for the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials, I would have told you absolutely not,” Kate said. “It wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy swimming, but swimming at this level was never really on my radar. Honestly, it wasn’t even until after my freshman year of high school that I started making the sport my main focus. That’s when I swam faster times, and the results from my hard work were manifesting. Once the success kicked in, my goals and dreams did a 180.”

As Kate began to picture herself more and more as a student-athlete, it was time for her to find the right school. With both her mom and aunt swimming for the University of Kansas back in the day, her mind was pretty set on not “simply following in their footsteps.”

But then, Coach Campbell started recruiting her.

“Things started to change the more we talked, and by the time I came on my first official recruiting trip, I was instantly sold on it being the right place for me,” she remembers.

Now, as she reflects on her current career at KU, she describes that KU “felt like home.” More importantly, she also began to realize that this was an opportunity to continue on her family’s legacy—something that sparked a lot of pride and motivation.

The three questions

To this day, Kate is very grateful to even be a student-athlete.

“There are so many great athletes out there that never even get the chance to compete in college,” she said. “Having this opportunity in itself means so much to me.”

It’s a testament to Kate’s personality and attitude. This mindset is also a direct result of her change of perspective.

“I failed! Many times! When I was trying to make the Olympic Trials at age 15, I allowed that journey to consume my whole life,” Kate remembers. “It was all I thought about, and I just put so much pressure on myself. I had to be perfect, and every single practice had to be perfect. It got to the point where I put the sport on a pedestal so high that I neglected everything else in my life. And after all of that, I still failed to make the cut. It was devastating. I remember just feeling so defeated because I’d put so much into it and got nothing in return. I put that burden on myself instead of looking at the situation with a clearer perspective.”

Kate began to ask herself: “Why am I here? How did I get here? What am I really here for?”

Simple questions that brought a whole new sense of purpose. Taking a step back allowed Kate to find more joy and ultimately see more success. Today, before every meet, she prays and thanks God.

“I’m just thankful I even have a body to continue competing,” Kate said. “I thank God for giving me teammates that are always supportive and for blessing me with a coach that’ll give me a fist bump no matter how I swim. I’m also thankful to have a mom who knows what it’s like to be in my shoes and a dad who still comes to my events, despite not knowing a whole lot about the sport.”

Kate is determined to never lose that perspective again.

Finishing the race

After failing to qualify for the Olympic Trials in high school, Kate finally made the cut in 2020. Due to COVID, everything was postponed to this year.

For Kate, the moment of truth is here.

“Words can’t even express how excited I am for the experience,” she said.

As she is heading to Omaha for the Olympic Trials, Kate continues to focus on her perspective.

“There’s more to the sport,” she said. “There’s so, so much more to gain than just medals and accolades. Nothing proved that more than when I won my first Big 12 Championship in the 200-yard breaststroke. It was so unexpected to win an event of that magnitude as a freshman. I remember hitting the wall and an eruption of yelling coming from behind me. It was my whole team and family, along with all of the KU people in the stands, just screaming their heads off. That experience is something I’ll never forget. Just seeing the excitement on everyone’s face, I just felt so overwhelmingly supported in that moment. It still gives me chills just thinking about it.”

As the lone Jayhawk to represent KU in Omaha, Kate is now gearing up for her first competition since mid-May.

Regardless of the outcome, Kate is overcome with gratitude and can’t wait to get back in the water.

With her ‘new’ perspective and an entire community behind her, nothing is impossible.