R-S Central senior Kendall Corbett had humble beginnings as a swimmer. Now, four years later, he's swimming in his fourth-straight state championship meet in Cary, N.C.
After coming to the area from Troy, N.C., Corbett found himself basically falling into the sport that proved to be his calling.
"We didn't have a swim team where I was from and my neighbors were recruiting swimmers for the Rutherford County Swim Team," Corbett explained. "I was playing football, basketball and ran track in middle school. I never thought about swimming. I thought it was stupid. I decided I would give it a chance."
Needless to say, Corbett wasn't prepared for what he was getting into.
"I went to the first practice in board shorts and hopped in the pool," Corbett said. "Coach Mike Kernodle told me to show him what I got. After about 12 yards he told me to get out and he put me in a lane. I couldn't walk the next day I was so tired."
From then Corbett continued to display his natural swimming ability. After being disqualified in his first meet, Corbett recorded "B" cut times after just a few months in the water.
"Most swimmers don't get those for months," Corbett said. "When my coach found out he knew something was going on for me."
In his freshman year, Corbett qualified for the state meet in both the 100-backstroke and the 200-Individual Medley. He failed to make it to the finals.
"Being a new swimmer I expected that," Corbett said. "The only thing I could use it as was fuel to practice and focus harder the next year."
What really opened Corbett's eyes, however, was an even larger meet.
"During my third month swimming I qualified for the Junior Olympics in the 50-freestyle. It's a huge state meet that most gets don't get an opportunity to swim in after a year, much less three months. It was an experience to show me that there were swimmers way faster than I will ever be," Corbett said. "That's probably my major turning point in the sport and having Coach Mike telling me that I was going to be something one day really made me set my goals."
As Corbett recognized his goals and aspirations he made the decision to switch club teams and leave Rutherford County swimming in favor of the Sharks Aquatic Club (SAC) in Shelby.
"I had to work harder and push my body to the max. I had to switch teams," Corbett said. "Mike [Kernodle] is a great coach, no doubt about it, but he just didn't have the time and the facilities that I needed."
After the move, Corbett began to see the changes he needed as a swimmer.
"That team got me in the shape I needed and got me to being the swimmer that I needed to be," Corbett said.
However, with a switch such as Corbett's, feelings were bound to be hurt and relationships were likely to be strained with those that gave Corbett his start.
"Mike [Kernodle] understood the switch. Of course he was upset because he wanted to be the one to coach me to a higher level," Corbett said. "I still kept our relationship with him. The high school season was his time. I practiced early in the morning here (with R-S Central) and drove to Shelby after school every day."
Corbett returned to the state meet his sophomore season in his specialty events. This time, he made it to the finals.
"Making the finals after just swimming two years, you can't ask for more than that," Corbett said. "My junior year was the year. I cracked down as hard as I could."
But with the new year came more turmoil as Corbett balanced his club and high school schedule.
"That was the weakest time for my relationship with Coach Mike," Corbett said. "I didn't go to practice much for him. I showed up to six practices tat whole year. I know it tore Mikes heart and looking back... I wish I could change it."
Corbett made his third trip to the state meet that year and finished third in the 100-backstroke. The taste of success made him work even harder, but injuries limited him in the offseason.
Corbett didn't compete during the 2012 summer as he rehabbed a shoulder injury that he suffered during the meet as well as a spider bite.
Once Corbett returned to the water, he was back to his old self.
"I was barely swimming and I was still dropping time," Corbett said.
Then the biggest injury struck.
"A swimmer isn't supposed to be lifting a lot," Corbett prefaced. "In weight training we were doing squats and agility training and I felt my knee pop. That day it hurt so bad I couldn't walk on it."
An MRI revealed a small meniscus tear in Corbett's knee that his doctor referred to as "nothing major."
"I went through the physical therapy and decided to get back in the pool and start training again about three weeks ago," Corbett said.
Just two weeks after re-entering the pool, Corbett earned All-Conference honors and was named the SMAC's Male Outstanding Conference Swimmer after winning both the 100-fly and 100-freestyle.
"I was swimming against Matt Campbell, a club teammate of mine that swims for Shelby, and I was scared that he's going to beat me," Corbett said. "I was afraid he was going to take away my four-year streak of all-conference and Swimmer of the Year. But in the end, I touched the wall with a [time of] 50.3, the fastest time I've ever swam a 100-freestyle."
The following week at the regional meet, Corbett qualified for state but was less than happy with his results as he continues his journey back from injury.
"I expected to pull out the times I did last year, but I just can't expect that now," Corbett said. "I have to swim with a piece of tape on my knee to keep it off the tear. Now I'm just focusing how I'm going to do at state."
After Corbett's high school career come to an end this weekend in Cary, he'll take his talents to Mars Hill to begin life as a collegiate swimmer with the ultimate life goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
"I never thought about Mars Hill, I always thought I'd go to a bigger school," Corbett said. "On my visit I was just amazed by the school. It was small but that's where I want to go."
Corbett caught the attention of the Mars Hill staff during his sophomore season and that interest only grew.
"They were amazed by my starts and my underwater ability. That's really my strength. I'm ready to sign and get this over with. We're just waiting for money to be offered after states," Corbett explained. "I've been told I'm their top recruit. Before I sent in my housing I checked with the coach to see if I had a spot on the team and he said that was probably the stupidest question he had ever heard in his life."
Corbett recognizes that once he leaves Rutherford County and R-S Central that he may have a large collection of medals, but he also has developed lasting relationships, especially with his high school coach, Mike Kernodle.
"The injury is what brought us closer together. Now were closer than ever before," Corbett said. "I was joking with him at regionals asking him if he would cry the last time I swim my 100-back at state, and he said he was going to be upset."
It was Corbett's time outside of the pool that solidified his relationship with Kernodle.
"On bus rides going to away meets I'm always talking to him," Corbett said. "Even at the meets I couldn't swim I was there as another coach giving advice. When Mike was talking to one swimmer, I was talking to another."
Corbett has no reservations when it comes to crediting Kernodle for his success.
"If it wasn't for him I don't know where I would be," Corbett said. "If it came down to it, I've always told my mom that if I make it to the Olympics, I want him to be my coach. I wish he could go to college with me but I don't think he would ever move up there with me."
Aside from Kernodle, Corbett's parents have been his driving force for four years.
"My dad was always pushing me to do better and practice more," Corbett said. "My mom, bless her heart, I know it was hard for her driving to all those early practices and back and forth to Shelby at night. It was hard for her, I know it was. My parents and my coaches support has made me the swimmer that I am."
Now as Corbett jumps in the pool for his last meet as a Hilltopper, he's swimming for more than a medal.
" I'm more worried about disappointing them than I am disappointing myself," Corbett said. "I made a promise to Mike [Kernodle] my freshman year that I would win state. I'm going to try my hardest, and he knows that, but with this setback I can only do the best I can."
Corbett can only put the knee injury behind him and swim through the pain.
"It is what it is and everything happens for a reason," Corbett said. "With support from my coach and parents I can get through anything. They're the reason I swim because I want to make them proud for something."