On July 31, 2015, 9-year-old Kennedy Stokes won a medal for the 100 Breast at the annual AAU Junior Olympic Games that was held in Newport News, Virginia. The outgoing Baltimorean competed against 50-75 other girls in the 9-10 age group from various states and placed sixth overall.
Kennedy competed in more than one swimming category, during the Games. The AAU Junior Olympic games are regarded as the largest national
multi-sport event for youth in the United States.
“I felt excited and good at the same time,” Kennedy said, reflecting on earning a medal at the AAU Junior Olympic Games. “[It] Swimming is my favorite thing to do, and I feel like I am going to get somewhere in life.”
Her father, Omar Stokes, introduced her to the water. Kennedy later learned how to swim through Aqua Eagle Swim Club (AESC). The swim team is currently all African-American. AESC is based in Baltimore City. Eleven out of 12 months a year, Kennedy practices and competes with the Aqua Eagle Swim Club team, although she joined another swim club for a portion of this past summer.
Omar and his wife, Anikka attend their daughter Kennedy’s swim meets and practices. Kennedy likes to execute the difficult butterfly stroke. Her mother likes to watch her daughter in action. The Stokes strive to immerse themselves in Kennedy’s swimming pursuits. Both Omar and Anikka say that they want
their daughter to know that they fully support her. Kennedy has been swimming seriously for almost three years.
“Oftentimes children at that age [nine] don’t demonstrate the drive and the commitment to pursue greatness that I see with her (Kennedy). Swimming is an individual sport, but it’s on a team, so she is able to take coaching (and) constructive criticism. She has developed a bond with her teammates. She knows how to win graciously and how to lose
graciously. Those are just some of the things that I am most proud of,” Anikka said. “She also knows what it takes to achieve her goals. Going to the Junior Olympics was a goal that she set for herself. Once she attained that goal by getting the (qualifying) time, she set a new goal that she wanted to medal.”
Swim teams are predominately Caucasian. Kennedy’s parents also want their daughter to understand that it is a privilege for her to swim, so they have taken time to provide history and background.
Omar, who was once a swimmer, said that Kennedy has matured through tough times. He evaluates his daughter’s progress and feels that Kennedy’s wins or losses are not as important as her personal development and athletic growth.
“She just makes me proud. I compare her to myself at such a young age. She’s already surpassed what I have done in the past,” Omar said.
Despite Kennedy’s parent’s high level of support, Anikka considers her mother, Bernadette Caldwell to be Kennedy’s number one fan.
“She came with us to the Junior Olympics,” Anikka said. “Kennedy has support from her family and my mother really leads that charge.”
Anikka describes her daughter as well rounded. She participates in community service projects with her swim club. One Saturday a month, Kennedy volunteers with Heart Health along with Caldwell. Hospitals, churches and volunteers work together to provide preliminary checkups while educating African Americans about heart health, weight loss and diseases. Additionally, the fourth grader who attends the Friends School of Baltimore loves school, creating art, playing kickball and soccer. She is a disciplined student who is known to be a very compassionate person and good listener.
A new swim season begins for Kennedy on September 14, 2015. She will return to the Aqua Eagle Swim Club team. Last season Kennedy practiced three days a week for approximately three hours each time. This season, she will be practice five days a week. Anikka says that Kennedy is up for the challenge of trying to make the state championship. The young student athlete remains ready to work hard. At such a young age, she already reflects her mother’s sentiments about greatness.
“If you’re going to be in the water, do something great in it,” Anikka said, reflecting on the racial history of African-Americans in swimming.