By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
When Shane Ryan competes in Glasgow, Scotland, this weekend at the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool, he will be surrounded by family.
Not family flying over from his home state of Pennsylvania or even from the United States (although his parents will be there). The family he’s expecting are from his father’s home country of Ireland.
The distance between the two nations is just over an hour by plane or four-plus hours by car, so the Ryans will be in full force and full voice – roughly 20-25 aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., cheering for Shane as he competes against Europe’s best swimmers.
“I’m excited, not only to get to compete for the United States at my first international meet but to do it in front of so many family,” said Ryan, whose parents both swam and his dad played Gaelic football, which brought him to the United States for competition and he decided to stay.
“This is such a great honor – one I never would have imagined a couple of years ago. Swimming is certainly opening a lot of opportunities for me lately, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
The two-day, short course meet will be contested at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre Friday, Dec. 20, followed by the conclusion of the meet at 9 a.m. ET on Saturday, Dec. 21. Footage from the meet will be televised by NBC as part of a two-hour show on Sunday, Dec. 22, from 4 to 6 p.m. EST.
The U.S. team is comprised of the swimmers who posted the top qualifying time in each Olympic event at the 2013 FINA World Championships, 2013 World University Games or 2013 U.S. Open. Swimmers can compete in a maximum of six events (individual and relays), and each team may enter up to four swimmers per individual event and one relay. A running score will be kept combining the points earned by both women and men to determine the winning team.
As a sophomore at Penn State University, Ryan was on very few people’s national or international swimming radar two years ago even after he committed to the Nittany Lions.
Although he was recruited by some strong collegiate programs, Ryan really didn’t start to make his mark on the sport until the summer after his freshman season.
The previous summer at 2012 Olympic Trials, he failed to make it out of prelims in the 100 backstroke (finishing 28th), but in less than a season, he was making great strides at Big Ten Championships and NCAAs.
Ryan took his results to new heights when he won the bronze medal in the 50 backstroke at the Phillips 66 USA National Championships – where the U.S. World Championship team was chosen. He also finished fourth in the 100 back, a stunning improvement from his performance the previous summer at Trials. It was this performance that earned Ryan his spot on the Duel in the Pool team.
Ryan said he credits his coaches at Penn State – past and present – for giving him the motivation and tools necessary to continue to swim faster and make prominent U.S. teams.
“I really trained hard all of last year after identifying how much I wanted to accomplish in swimming,” Ryan said. “We had a coaching change this year at Penn State, and that has proven to be great for me, but it was the combination of my previous coach and new one that was instrumental in helping me create a program to help me get where I wanted to be.”
Being so new to the international swimming scene, Ryan said he is both excited and a little nervous about competing on such a big stage against such seasoned athletes.
Still, Ryan said he intends to use this and future meets, now that he’s on the National team, to become a stronger competitor and, of course, faster swimmer.
And if he leaves Scotland having stood on the awards podium and heard the U.S. National Anthem played because of his performance – even better.
“The past year or so – especially since World Championship Trials – has been so much more than I ever could have expected,” said Ryan, who said he really didn’t take swimming seriously until his senior year of high school. “World Trials really showed me that I belong here and I can race with anyone.
“It took me a little while to get here, but now I am, and I honestly feel I’m not going anywhere. Over the next few years, I’m going to continue to get stronger (he’s 6-foot-6 and 185 pounds) and only get better. I know the sky is the limit for me, and only I can keep me from achieving more.”