Posts tagged "Eric Shanteau"
Four years ago Eric Shanteau experienced the Olympic Games unlike any athlete before; he swam with cancer. Four years later he competes again in London, but no longer swims for himself. He organizes a LIVESTRONG event, Swim For Your Life, every year to help those living with cancer. Now cancer free Shanteau swims for a cause.
Eric Shanteau – Swim For Your Life
By Josh Blessing | BSU at the Games
Standing on the blocks at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, seconds before one of the most important swims of his career, breaststroker Eric Shanteau was not just physically competing against those swimmers to his left and right.
Like most world-class athletes, he tried to put himself in the moment of his race. The chance to realize a dream and qualify for the Olympic Games was on the line.
But as much as he tried to clear his head and focus on the task at hand, he faced even more challenging competition outside the pool.
The day life changed
Shanteau will never forget June 19, 2008. It’s the day doctors told him he had testicular cancer. He was 24 years old, and the timing was made more terrible by the Olympic pressure he already faced.
He was in the middle of vigorous training for the Beijing Olympics, and the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials were just a week away.
“It was devastating to say the least,” Shanteau said. “You get hit with all these emotions all at once. I think the biggest thing is the loss of control. All of a sudden, the control is ripped out of your hands and replaced with a doctor who is essentially giving you a battle plan to save your life.”
Shanteau was forced to make a decision—postpone treatment and risk his cancer advancing or miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Beijing to start his treatment.
He consulted with his doctors, family and coaches, and “they gave me the go-ahead to compete at the Olympics,” Shanteau said. “It was an experience of a lifetime. It’s something I worked my entire life to do, and stepping foot on that deck for the first time in Beijing—I’ll definitely never forget that.”
While undergoing weekly tests to make sure his cancer remained stable, Shanteau swam a personal best in the 200-meter breaststroke but missed the finals by 0.13 of a second. Then he traveled back to the U.S. and underwent surgery to remove the cancer at the end of August.
He was declared cancer-free six days later, but the mental challenges never evaporated.
Brian Balmes, a six-time cancer survivor and Shanteau’s good friend who has competed in 12 marathons, seven half Ironmans and one full Ironman, knows the toll cancer can take on someone over the years.
“One of the things you have to get through when you have cancer is living with the fear of it coming back,” Balmes said. “As a human we have to find things to do to help you deal with that mentally.”
Shanteau visited his doctor every two months for routine check ups. An elite athlete who dominated competition in the pool now hoped to hear everything was fine.
“Coping with everything I had been through was a struggle,” Shanteau said. “After everything finally calmed down and I realized what I actually had been through, I was worried about a recurrence—where it would come back, when, or even if it would come back. These thoughts are always going through your mind.”
Now four years later, the cancer has not returned.
Swimming from an early age
There was little question Shanteau, a native of Lilburn, Ga., would be back in the pool as quickly as possible. Swimming has been part of his life since childhood.
He broke onto the national scene at 16 when he competed at the 2000 Olympic Trials. Upon graduating from Parkview High School two years later, Shanteau became the first male in the history of the USA Swimming Scholastic All-American Program to graduate with a 4.0 grade-point average and win a national title.
His swimming prowess continued at Auburn University where he was undefeated in team competitions. Swimming for the Tigers, Shanteau was an 11-time NCAA All-American and helped his team compile 32 dual meet victories, four SEC titles and four NCAA titles.
Shanteau quickly put himself in the international swimming spotlight. At the 2005 World University Games, he won gold in both the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley, making him the first American to sweep both events.
Cancer didn’t slow his trajectory.
“I got back into the water and back in to shape,” Shanteau said. “I started swimming faster than I ever had before, pretty quickly. That’s really what led me to want to come back to the sport of swimming after 2008. I realized I hadn’t reached my potential quite yet.”
At the World Championships in 2009, Shanteau set American records in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. He also broke the world record and became a world champion as part of the 4×100 medley relay, joining teammates Aaron Peirsol, Michael Phelps and David Walters.
“The success in 2009 was a really big catalyst to helping me continue on for another four years and go for another Olympic Games,” Shanteau said.
Swim for your life
Although his success in the pool is undeniable, his story goes much further. It’s what Shanteau has done outside of the pool that is changing lives.
After becoming cancer free, he began getting involved with the LIVESTRONG Foundation. He then was able to meet Lance Armstrong and attend his first LIVESTRONG Challenge.
“The LIVESTRONG Foundation has grown to multiple cities, and that got me thinking,” Shanteau said. “I want to do this for the swimming community.”
Two years later, Shanteau started his own cancer awareness event called Swim for Your Life. The open-water event is held at Lake Lanier near Atlanta, Ga.
Now in its third year, it has continued to grow. All funds raised from the full day of open-water swimming races and clinics go to the Patient Navigation Center and other programs that LIVESTRONG offers.
“I try to and run it like a LIVESTRONG Challenge, just in the water.” Shanteau said. “The goal is to continue to grow it. As long as there’s a fight against cancer, it’s something I want to be involved with.”
Shanteau, who qualified for the London Games in the 100-meter breaststroke and relays, is hoping his exposure in London will help attendance numbers for Swim for Your Life once the event kicks off September 22.
“Year three is huge,” Shanteau said. “People only get to see the Olympics once every four years, and that’s when swimming is most popular. We’ll really get a feel for how much we can grow from this year. This is the year where we can expand and adjust more than we did last year.”
Balmes, a member of the organizing committee for the event, agrees with Shanteau.
“Participation last year was enormous, and I think we can double that this year—especially when he does so well over in (London),” he said with a smile, “which we all are hoping and praying for. It can be spectacular.”
Shanteau said one of the more specific messages behind Swim for Your Life is how it relates to men and testicular cancer. He said there are treatments that work, but it’s up to people to take action at the first signs of the disease.
“My message is that it’s OK to get help and it’s OK to acknowledge you have a problem,” he said. “Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be embarrassed. Straight, open talk about cancer is the biggest weapon we have against this disease.”
When Shanteau steps on the blocks in London, his incredible four-year journey likely will be identified as one of the great stories of this year’s Games.
“The mission of this has been to always give back,” Shanteau said. “I was given so much help and so much support from people I had never even met before. That was part of the reason why I started this, in some small way, to give back to people who I don’t know who will go through this or have a loved one go through this.
“There is life after cancer.”
Josh Blessing is a junior telecommunications major at Ball State University covering sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Josh and the BSU team at@JoshJBlessing, @bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.
The same holds true for Thomas Finchum, Kayla Harrison, Travis Stevens, Joseph Diaz, Jr., and David Boudia.
And even though I haven’t met Miles Chamley-Watson in person yet, you can put a check by his name too. Chalk one up for the good guys (and gals).
Even though this is my first blog post about this amazing Olympic experience, the relationships have been building for many months. It was more than evident in Dallas.
Maybe it was because I was sitting inside the boxing ring at Maple Avenue Boxing Gym in Downtown Dallas, but it hit me harder than Spence’s signature south-paw punch, and I couldn’t have been happier.
While more than 450 other media members packed into a room to listen to Michael Phelps or First Lady Michelle Obama over at the Hilton Anatole, Josh Blessing and I were forming a bond with Spence, his coach, Derrick James, and his father, Spence Sr.—a bond that, after four days, will last a lifetime. Sign me up, I am officially a member of Team Spence.
I’ve worked in sports my whole life, and by this time, my instincts never have proven me wrong. I knew going to Dallas this was a chance to do something special. Just do a quick Google search on Errol Spence, Jr., and USA Boxing, and you’ll see what I mean.
His story is amazing. From the tiny, rundown Vivero Boxing Gym in Oak Cliff to becoming a three-time national welterweight champion and Olympic medalist hopeful in London. Oh, and he’s only 22 years old. He’s the son of a Jamaican immigrant. His biggest influence is his mother (mine too).
Josh and I spent the better part of our trip researching, making connections and shooting video for this story. Instinct.
When I picked up Errol from the hotel and we drove together to Maple Avenue for the interview, we connected. Not since working with former Ball State athlete, John Wooden Award winner and dear friend Peyton Stovall have I seen a smile or the charisma Spence has.
I can’t wait to unleash my own creativity and experience with Josh on this story. Spence deserves my best, and he’ll get it. And I’ll be in London—hopefully in the stands as often as I can—to support Spence every step of the way. He deserves that too.
Less than two hours later, it was the inspirational Shanteau who delivered the knock out.
We talked about his journey over the last four years as a cancer survivor, the loss of his father to the same dreaded disease and his mission to spread cancer awareness in young adults.
It too was more than an interview. We spent an hour talking about life and how it changed for him. Little did he know, it was changing for me too. We connected.
I collected more than 75 business cards in Dallas, shared stories and worked with our students in an environment I will never forget. We met with more than 100 athletes and logged more than 600 minutes of interviews. There’s more coming. Heck, we haven’t even made it to London yet.
But it’s more than just the connections and the stories, it’s the people. It’s building relationships. It’s being real, having a passion for what you do and caring for people.
Spence and Shanteau know all about those things.