The top breaststroker in the United States—at the moment, at least—has put on 10 pounds of muscle since the last Olympic Games. He has never swum faster in his life; he set a personal best in March and again in May. While many Olympians took five or six months off to recover from Beijing, he got back in the pool a few weeks after arriving home.
Which also happened to be just weeks after having a cancerous testicle removed.
Eric Shanteau, 26, is certain he is bigger, stronger and faster than he’s ever been. And, most important, this summer, unlike last, he is cancer-free. Diagnosed just before last year’s Olympic trials, Shanteau spent the ensuing months balancing his desire to achieve his Olympic dream with the excruciating stress of his diagnosis.
And then, after finishing 10th in the Olympic 200 breast and undergoing surgery, which was declared successful, Shanteau trained. While many of America’s stars—Michael Phelps, Brendan Hansen, Aaron Peirsol, Kate Ziegler—took significant time off to escape the sport, Shanteau labored, the long hours in the water feeling like therapy, providing a respite from the mental strain of his ongoing battle.
“I just needed to get back in the pool,” Shanteau said.
Shanteau decided, with his doctor’s blessing, to bypass chemotherapy, so he took no medications, no steroids, nothing that would have aided his workouts. He simply did more, and he did everything hard. He pushed his bench press from around 200 pounds to 240. He changed his entire dryland routine.
He swam without his usual training partners—Peirsol, Hansen and Ian Crocker—in Austin, Texas, because they all took a break from training after the Games. (Hansen, the fastest U.S. man ever in the 100 and 200 breasts and the 200 world-record holder, still hasn’t returned to competition after a disappointing 2008 season.)
“I’ve got almost a full year of training under my belt,” Shanteau said. “I’m training just as seriously as last summer…This is all out for me, as serious as it gets.”
In March, Shanteau swam a time of 1 minute .09 seconds in the 100 breast, becoming the second-fastest American of all time. In May, his time of 2:09.97 in the 200 ranked third-fastest among Americans. Those times rank sixth and seventh in the world this year, meaning Shateau will be challenged to contend for a medal at the July 25-Aug. 2 world championships in Rome. He expects, however, to get faster.
“To be doing that in the middle of the season is looking good for the end of the year,” Shanteau said at a recent grand prix event in Charlotte, N.C.
With Hansen a question mark, Shanteau is a favorite to make the U.S. team at the qualifying trials in Indianapolis in two weeks.
“It’s way above where I was last summer, which is really, really good,” Shanteau said with a smile. “I don’t know what the cancer did to me.”
To read more about Shanteau’s struggle with cancer: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/15/AR2008121502685.html
Tags: Michael Phelps