Chance Encounter Leads to Lifelong Friendship

Robert King, Joseph Carson

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This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

If life has taught Robert King and Joseph Carson anything, it has taught them both that there’s a reason for every encounter.

Today’s stranger could end up being tomorrow’s teammate, best friend, or even company colleague.

Such was the case for the two swimmers at SMU, who barely spoke a word to one another during their high school years. They only knew each other in passing through a mutual sport.

Little did they know that acquaintanceship would grow into a friendship that would ultimately change their lives forever.

“You know, I think me and Robert are both generally pretty friendly guys. So we probably shot the breeze a few times on the blocks or after races,” Carson said, when asked how he met King.

“It’s the age of social media. We interacted a couple of times on each other’s posts or whatever — you know, just little things like that. That’s how it was after high school and through most of college. Then he reached out and started asking me about the SMU swimming program, and things pretty much snowballed from there.”

The graveyard of dreams

King’s curiosity arose after his senior season was ruined by an injury and COVID-19, while attending the University of Utah.

He’d worked his way up to captain, but never got to participate in any meets in his last year. Before he knew it, the season was over, and he was left with an overwhelming sense of emptiness inside. It was at that point he decided to give up on swimming.

The sport he had used to preoccupy his time with throughout grade school and the one thing responsible for him staying in touch with Carson was suddenly no longer a part of the equation.

That’s when a chance viewing of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials changed everything.

“I remember watching some buddies on TV in July, and I was thinking like, ‘Dang, this sucks,’” said King. 

“I think I could have made it to the Olympic Trials, but I didn’t because I was injured, and I quit. I graduated thinking I was completely done with the sport.”

But the possible what-ifs from that decision haunted King.

What if he gave swimming one last shot? What if he put everything else in the rearview and went back to finish things on his terms?

Renowned motivational speaker Les Brown once said, “The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.”

King never wanted to be one of those individuals from that quote. He didn’t want to be someone that never chased his dream to the fullest.

So he reached out to Carson, and the two reconnected at a friend’s wedding.


Most challenging moment

During King’s visit, Carson took the time to give him the grand tour of SMU and the city of Dallas. He ultimately introduced King to the SMU swimming coaches, who suggested he submit a late application to try and join the program.

The rest is history.

“I hadn’t swam in nearly a year by that point. Joe remembers how out of shape I was for that first practice,” King said with Carson chuckling in the background.

“I wanted to get back into swimming. I needed to see where my potential was at. I didn’t want to grow old and have any regrets. Deep down, I thought I had more in the tank, but I wanted to prove it to myself.”

Carson never hesitated on an opportunity to help a friend out in a tough situation because he was going through his own bouts of adversity during the height of the COVID pandemic.

The school work was piling on him and he was also trying to find an internship. Throw in the struggles of staying in shape for swimming and it’s clear things were spiraling out of control. And to top it all off, he got a concussion as well.

“It was a crappy semester for me—the hardest I’d ever experienced in college,” said Carson. “Life was coming at me pretty fast, and it just took me out for a little while. But I learned a lot about myself going through it. Being able to come back from it all and still find that success athletically and academically was a major turning point in my life. That whole situation really made me appreciate the people I have around me.”

“I remember watching some buddies on TV in July, and I was thinking like, ‘Dang, this sucks,’” said King. “I think I could have made it to the Olympic Trials, but I didn’t because I was injured, and I quit. I graduated thinking I was completely done with the sport.”

Bad things happen in threes

One of the people he clearly appreciates most is King, who went through his own issues in his first year at SMU. It wasn’t a situation where he just changed schools, and everything was smooth sailing.

Life’s storms wouldn’t give him that sort of peace—not yet, anyways.

It took everything he had just to work himself back into the shape he was in when he left Utah. But he started to hit his stride and even had a great midseason meet. He made it all the way to December when he received the soul-crushing news no human being is ever prepared to hear.

His old teammate and close friend had tragically passed away.

“I was at an all-time low. It was like being shot right in the heart from out of nowhere,” said King. “It wasn’t an easy thing to get through. Something similar happened at SMU not long ago. So the seniors here had an idea of what I was going through. They all kind of helped me through it, but it was still really hard, obviously.”

A month after hearing the devastating news about his friend, King suffered an injury and then got COVID. He was sidelined for three straight weeks.

“They say bad things happen in threes, right? Those were definitely some terrible threes,” King said.

It’s a good thing he didn’t experience the “terrible fours” because he couldn’t afford another setback leading into the conference championships.

He went in thinking he was going to have the worst meet of his life with everything he was dealing with at the time.

Boy, was he wrong!

The team ended up setting a new school record of 6:22.60 in the first relay and winning the conference championship.

“It was so sick, man! I never thought in a million years I’d be on the school record board at SMU. It was such a crazy moment,” said King.

The moment was even crazier for Carson, who had been with the program through the highs and lows. During his freshman year, the team finished dead last in the conference meet. However, a coaching change combined with individual improvements and adding new talent like King to the mix took the program to new heights.

“We just kept getting better and better,” said Carson. “Just seeing the progress with the team and having that lead to a conference championship is something that was truly special to be a part of.”

Next chapter

And to think, it all started with two high school swim buddies reconnecting through social media.

They both had to overcome their own bouts of adversity before coming together to help put a resurging program back on the map. Through friendship, comradery, and just outright believing in one another, they were able to move mountains at SMU.

They’re hopeful all of those traits follow them into the business world with the two now partnering together for a career opportunity at Veritex Bank after graduation.

They’ll now officially be swimming in the world of corporate America.

“The coolest thing to me is the fact that me and Robby have always brought out the best in one another. When we trained together, we really pushed and challenged one another to be better,” said Carson.

“I’m excited about being paired together and seeing if our chemistry in the pool can translate in the real working world.”

Considering the connection those two have together, you’d have to be crazy to doubt them.