By Amber-Louise Sleight & Ryan Fahy
Talking to Taylor and Kaylee McKeown is like talking to friends you have had for years. They approach you with warm, inviting smiles as their fun and bubbly personalities shine through their activewear. The girls are very open and willing to share their thoughts and experiences in detail without much more than an introduction.
Kaylee says the sisters have been swimming from a “very young age”. “Mum and dad always wanted us in the pool… because we were both asthmatics and they both wanted us to be safe around the pool,” she says. Swimming is considered the best exercise for asthmatics.
As they got older Taylor and Kaylee were also involved in other sports, but when school became really tough, they had to choose the sport they wanted to succeed in, which was swimming.
Now the girls are heading off to Budapest, Hungary in July to compete in their first international competition together on the Australian team: the FINA World Championships. The meet is also known as the World Aquatics Championships and includes swimming, diving, high diving, open water swimming, synchronized swimming, and water polo.
Over a week of swimming Taylor, 22, will compete in the 100m and 200m breaststroke races. Kaylee (who will be 16) will race in the 200m backstroke and 400m individual medley events. The girls are currently completing three gym and nine swim sessions every week in preparation.
To make it to FINA, the girls attended the Australian Swimming Championships in Brisbane earlier this year. Both girls say the event was an eye-opener, especially as this is the first time Kaylee has made an Australian team. Kaylee says this is one of the biggest highlights of her swimming career so far. “It wasn’t expected, so to be able to reach that … made me think wow, I can achieve a lot more if I can just set my mind to it,” Kaylee says.
Kaylee’s biggest inspiration is her sister. When Taylor made her first Australian team Kaylee says watching her “had a major influence on me and my swimming”. “I mean, there’s like Emily Seebohm and those sorts of people, but I mean to have your sister who’s older, it’s great,” she says.
Taylor made the Australian team for the first time at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 where she won gold in her pet event: the 200m breaststroke. Despite once again making the team Taylor was disappointed with her results in Brisbane. She only had nine weeks to prepare after taking a well-deserved break following the Rio Olympics.
“The first two weeks of that is getting our fitness back and then the second two weeks is building your speed, and then your power, and then getting stronger in the gym,” Taylor says. “It just flies by so quickly and then the next thing I know I’m up racing at nationals,” she says.
However, Taylor says she’s “stoked” she will get to be in Budapest with Kaylee, who is more than happy to have her. “I’ve just got someone there that I can really rely on and like, Taylor’s always been there for me and I’ve always managed to talk to her when I need help and that sort of stuff, so it’s going to be good,” Kaylee says.
The girls are thrilled their achievements mean their trainer Chris Mooney also qualified to coach in Budapest. “They go by your FINA point score which is basically how close you are to the world record,” Taylor says. “Every year the top coaches who score the most FINA points with their athletes get selected.”
Taylor says they are very lucky Mooney will be joining them. “There’s nothing worse than being with a random coach that you only work with like once or twice a year,” Taylor says. Kaylee agrees. “It’s always good to have your home coach with you,” she says. “I mean they understand you from head to toe.”
The sisters are glad they swim in different events. Taylor says she hates racing against Kaylee because she feels bad whether she wins or loses, although they sometimes compete in individual medleys.
“She’s good at backstroke, I’m good at breaststroke and we’re both terrible at each other’s strokes, so it’s like we’re pretty even for the butterfly and then we get to the backstroke and she’ll take off,” Taylor says. “Then we turn into the breaststroke leg and I see her a couple of metres ahead and I’m like ‘you’re so gone’ and I like catch up to her,” she says. “Then it’s on in the freestyle because we’re both so close. She’s beaten me a couple of times in the individual medley which I didn’t really like cause I feel like I’m the older one, so I should have the advantage and I should be winning.”
Kaylee says both times they have competed their lanes have been next to each other, so there’s a “bit of psyching out”. Taylor laughs. “Sometimes I mess with her, like I’ll get down and I’ll go to splash myself before the race and I’ll like splash her,” she says. “Anytime we do race each other we make it fun, so it’s never taken too heavy heartedly, but I’m glad she does backstroke cause I would not want to race her, she’s so good.”
The girls say they have to give credit to another pair of Aussie sisters, who both swim freestyle. “I honestly don’t know how the Campbell sisters do it, like with training and racing,” Taylor says. “I just, I could never imagine us doing the same thing.”
Taylor says her and Kaylee are already “way too competitive” and have been since they were little and used to wrestle each other.
The sisters clearly appreciate their parents’ support and efforts and are looking forward to holidaying with them. Taylor says their parents are very proud of them and now Kaylee is also making Australian teams it makes their mum and dads dedication pay off. It proves their efforts have been worth it.
“Mum’s really stoked now because she gets to watch both of us at one championship,” Taylor says. “Mum and dad are coming over this year to Hungary and yeah, we’re going travelling afterwards, as a family, which is something we haven’t done in years because we have been so busy.”
Both girls have their sights set on the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.