When Haverford High School senior Shane Ryan touched the wall at the finish of the 50-yard freestyle at the PIAA state championships in March, the clock read 19.97, making him the third high school student in American history to break the 20-second barrier. He later swam a 19.91 in the event, leaving with a pair of titles. This summer, Ryan is headed to the Olympic Trials. Then, it’s on to Penn State, where he’ll finally get serious about swimming. Really.
MLT: Have you always been one of those swimming kids with a perpetual wet head and a box of Jell-O powder in his hand?
SR: Mostly, it was a summer swimming kind of thing. I didn’t really start seriously until my sophomore year.
MLT: What did you do athletically before committing to swimming?
SR: I played a lot of different sports, like soccer and Gaelic football. My dad [Tom] was on the Irish national [Gaelic football] team. That’s how he came over here. I played volleyball. I tried the javelin this spring, but my shoulder hurt too much from swimming for me to throw.
MLT: What got you to become a full-time swimmer?
SR: I got mono my junior year.
SR: I was swimming about three times a week as a sophomore, not really caring, and I didn’t do as well at states as I wanted to. I tried to do a little better the next year, but I got mono and missed a month. When I went to the Central League [championship] meet, I didn’t think I would do too well, but I won two individual titles. I thought, ‘OK, it’s time to get serious.’ So, I guess everybody who wants to do well in swimming should get mono. [Laughs]
MLT: How did you feel when you broke 20 seconds in the 50 freestyle?
SR: I’ve always wanted to go under 20, but my coach [Matt Stewart] didn’t think I could do it. I’d been out for two weeks in the prime of the season, because my shoulder was messed up. Coach and I were joking around before we went to states, and I always make little bets with him before I swim. I said I would shave an H into the back of his head if I broke 20. I felt good, and I jumped in [during the trials] and swam a 19.97. When I was finished, I looked at my coach and pretended to shave my head. That night [in the finals] I swam a 19.91, which was cool, because I wanted to break my birthday year, 1994.
MLT: What made you want to go to Penn State? It’s not a traditional power.
SR: I talked to Auburn and Tennessee, too. But at Penn State, the team welcomed me more than the other teams did. It felt like family. It’s not too far from home, and the coach there said he thinks they can make me 10 times better as a swimmer than I am now.
MLT: Have you dreamed of being an Olympian?
SR: I have the goal of being an Olympic gold medalist. Because my dad is from Ireland, I could live there for a year and be on their team. But in 2016, I want to be swimming for the U.S. I’m on the junior national team, and a lot of guys on that team make the [senior] national team. All the kids beating me now swim every single day, twice a day. They lift weights. I only swim two hours a day, and I’m not lifting weights. I want to enjoy my life. But once I get to Penn State, I’m going to eat, sleep, go to school and swim. I’m going to get up there and become a powerhouse. I’m pretty pumped.