By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
When Eric Shanteau walked away from competitive swimming after the conclusion of the 2012 Olympic Games, he knew he was ready for the next phase of his life.
Nothing, however, including facing the fiercest of competitors or working through the hardest of sets, prepared him for the responsibilities – and joys – of being a dad.
So when daughter, Vaughn, arrived last October, Shanteau and wife Jerri Moss (former competitive swimmer), dove right into parenthood and have enjoyed every moment of it.
They’ve already signed Vaughn – who Shanteau says has big hands and feet – up for her first swim lessons at the end of April!
“Being a parent definitely trumps everything else,” said Shanteau, who never “officially” retired but hasn’t competed since London. “People always say that seeing your child born is one of the biggest life changing events you will ever have.
“I don't think you can appreciate it or fully understand it until you actually experience it. Now that I have, I completely agree with them. Being a parent is one of the best things I have ever experienced.”
When he’s not swooning over his new angel, Shanteau lives in California and works in cardiac rhythm management for Boston Scientific, selling and maintaining implantable pacemakers and defibrillators.
He remains actively involved with LIVESTRONG Foundation and continues to host his annual Swim for Your Life Challenge each September at Lake Lanier Islands.
“Between my new job and being a dad, I am very busy but very happy,” Shanteau said. “Basically I help take care of people with sick hearts. I very much enjoy this new career path as it keeps me involved with patient health care.”
While he hasn’t filled out the paperwork – checking the retirement box on the drug testing forms – Shanteau said he went to London in 2012 knowing it was going to be his final competition regardless of outcome.
He said he couldn’t think of a better way to finish his long, successful career on the biggest stage in the world – confident it was the best time for him to walk away.
And while he freely admits it was a difficult decision, he said he had reached a point where he was ready to move on even though swimming was the only thing he had ever known.
“I owed it to myself to try something different,” Shanteau said. “My wife and I also wanted to start a family. I was ready to shift all of my attention to her and our future family.
“There are definitely aspects of the sport I miss, especially around championship meets. The rush of adrenaline and the camaraderie of friends around the pool deck are probably the things I miss most. Any high-level athlete will tell you there is always more to accomplish, but I achieved more than I ever dreamed in swimming. I retired when I was swimming best times and in great shape. I think that is an ideal time to walk away. I can look back on my career and feel very satisfied and happy.”
However, mixed in with the extreme happiness of making his first Olympic Team in 2008 – particularly after third-place finishes in two events at the 2004 Trials that kept him off the team headed to Athens – Shanteau experienced distress and concern.
Weeks before making the team, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and not only his health but his career was in jeopardy. Against the counsel of his doctors, he traveled with the team to Beijing, competed, and when he returned, had surgery to eliminate the cancer.
“The hard part was when I made the team, and I actually had to find a way to delay treatment for another two months,” Shanteau said. “Coming up with that battle plan was very stressful. I knew and understood the risks I was taking, and thankfully everything worked out in the end. I was fortunate to have an army of doctors in my corner who were monitoring me very closely.”
As a result, he became involved with LIVESTRONG and found an outlet to not only help himself but others who experienced the same obstacles. He has been cancer-free for five years (as of September), meaning he’s medically in remission, and continues to have a full work-up once a year as prevention.
Along with fatherhood, his cancer opened his eyes to the tunnel vision that elite athletes often have and gave him a new perspective that remains strong with him today.
“The odds of cancer returning that is related to my previous diagnosis are slim,” Shanteau said. “However, my body is obviously capable of growing cancerous tumors so I still have a full work up once a year.
“It (the cancer) pretty much flipped my life upside down and inside out. It completely changed my outlook on life and made me realize what is truly important. I learned to really appreciate the close relationships I have in my life. I also learned how to communicate much more effectively. Swimming was put into perspective very quickly as well. After my diagnosis I viewed swimming differently. I didn't put as much pressure on myself when it came to swimming. I realized in the grand scheme of things, swimming is pretty small. It is simply a sport and should be enjoyed. I remembered what it was like to swim purely for the fun of it.”
Now that he’s nearly two years removed from his final races, Shanteau has had time to reflect on what swimming meant and continues to mean to him. Career highlights include breaking the world record and winning gold as a member of the 400 medley relay team at the 2009 World Championships, making the 2012 Olympic Team and not having cancer hanging over his head, and winning four NCAA team titles at Auburn University.
He said he hopes when people hear his name in the future, they remember him for the competitor that he was and for never giving up.
“I hope I will be remembered for resilience and consistency,” Shanteau said. “I would like people to remember that I always performed no matter what part of the training season I was in.
“I will always love the sport of swimming. It helped teach me to be the person I am today. I am no longer competing, but that doesn't mean you won't occasionally see me around the pool deck.”