Friday, January 1, 2021
New Experiences Build on Shaine Casas' Momentum to 2021
Monica Epling struggled with morning sickness during her pregnancy with Shaine Casas while serving on a Navy base in El Centro, Calif. The remedy: time in the base’s pool or a bathtub.
“I would get in the water and he’d be calm,” she said. “It was almost instantaneous.”
Epling described Casas as “a very fussy baby” who would stop crying when she gave him a bath, and recalled him always stumbling toward the pool when he was around 8 months old.
Casas is naturally drawn to the water and has an affinity for swimming that helped him make the U.S. National Team and gives him a strong chance of qualifying for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
His 53.14 performance in the 100 backstroke in November 2019 was the fourth-fastest time in the world during the 2019-20 season and was 0.35 seconds behind world record–holder Ryan Murphy. Casas, a Texas A&M junior, also ranked within the top 13 in the world in the 200 backstroke and the 200 IM.
His success in swimming comes following a tragedy that shook his family.
Casas’s father, James Epling, drowned in 2003 while pursuing a smuggler as part of his work for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. When Monica decided to get a pool at the family’s home in Mission, Texas, and with her husband’s death in mind, she enrolled Casas in water safety lessons. She did this, Casas said, so he didn’t become “another stat.”
Casas showed promise early, but didn’t dedicate himself solely to swimming until his sophomore year of high school. That’s when Texas A&M associate head coach Jason Calanog recalled being struck by the sight of Casas on the pool deck during a meet.
“I couldn’t believe the size of his body, the length of his arms and legs,” Calanog said. “It was definitely a sight to see. I had a feeling he was going to be something special.”
Casas proved his coach right at the 2017 Speedo Junior National Championships, at which he tied for first in the 100 butterfly, placed second in the 100 backstroke, finished third in the 200 IM and 50 freestyle and made the A final in all seven of his individual events.
Casas’s confidence that he could become an Olympian grew when he tied Alexei Sancov, who represented Moldova in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, in the 100 butterfly.
“I think I was ranked like eighth or 12th in the world in 18&under and 30-something in the world rankings,” Casas said. “I was like, ‘Wow, we’re not too far off. We have a lot of work, but maybe one day, I’ll be there.’”
Casas still went to Texas A&M in 2018 as something of a swimming newbie.
He regularly asked high school and club coaches for workouts and swam on his own throughout high school. Texas A&M, needless to say, provided quite a different training environment.
Calanog said Casas had to work on simple details with his stroke, swim at a faster pace in workouts, learn more about race strategy and get used to training with other swimmers.
“He had to do a lot of learning when he was 18 years old,” Calanog said.
Consider those lessons learned.
Despite suffering an ankle injury that kept him from training for several weeks, Casas broke two individual school records his freshman season and became the first Aggie freshman to score points at the NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming & Diving Championship in two events.
During his sophomore season, which was cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic, he became the fastest teenager ever in the 200-yard IM and broke 12-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte’s Southeastern Conference record in the 200 backstroke by more than a second.
With his biggest meets of the season still to come, Casas holds seven individual school records and is part of five relay school records. He commemorates each one by placing a placard listing each record on the walls of his apartment, but he’s starting to run out of room.
“I’m going to figure out what I can do,” Casas said. “I’m missing like five.”
Along with his early collegiate successes, Casas shined at the 2019 Phillips 66 National Championships, capturing his first national title in the 100 backstroke, along with second-place finishes in the 200 I.M. and 200 backstroke.
His improvement leaves him with a good chance at achieving his goal of qualifying for the Olympics. He’s certain he’ll swim the 100 and 200 backstroke, the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly at Trials, and he’s thinking about adding the 200 butterfly to that list.
No matter what event it is, Casas just hopes to represent the United States next summer.
“That’s what I’ve been chasing since I was introduced to the sport,” Casas said. “I don’t think I ever wanted to be in something and not be the best. I feel like finally I’m at that point. I feel like I’m ready to have my opportunity to go. It would mean the world to me. It would make my family proud, my brothers proud, the school proud and myself proud.”
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