ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) – Leah Shackley, a 14-year-old freshman at Bedford, is competing in the 100 backstroke the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha next week.
In the 2016 Rio Games, the average age of a female swimmer on Team USA was 22.8 years old.
“I don’t think this region has had anyone like her,” said Tom Grassadonia, Shackley’s head coach.
Shackley will be swimming in Wave I of the Olympic Trials– the waves were divided to space out swimmers. There will be about 80 swimmers at the Trials, and Grassadonia hopes she places in the top 24.
The top two finishers in Wave I will go onto Wave II. The second wave sees the likes of Katie Ledecky. The top two swimmers from each event will go to Tokyo.
Shackley has been training six days a week since October and traveling every weekend to long-course pools. None of these pools are open in Pennsylvania because of COVID-19.
At the Speedo Super Sectionals in Richmond, Shackley had to drop .39 seconds off her 100 back time to make the Trials Cut. Right before Shackley swam, she and Grassadonia watched another girl miss the Trial Cut in the 200 fly by 1/100 of a second.
Grassadonia said he told Leah “just to go for it.” In the semifinals, Shackley made the cut, and lights went off, indicating that she was going to trials. In the Finals, she placed second.
In Richmond, Shackley said she had to mentally prepare, but knew she could trust her process. For trials, she said she has been taking everything day by day, and enjoying all of the things that come along with the remarkable achievement.
“I have a goal to drop point 3/10 of a second off my time, and just go there and enjoy the experience,” said Shackley. “Not really trying to make times, so there’s no pressure. It’s for the learning experience and the fun of it! And meeting a lot of new people.”
“One thing we’ve tried to do is just be yourself,” said Grassadonia. “She has learned how to go to really competitive events. She meets kids on deck– I shouldn’t say kids, sometimes they’re adults!– and she just talks with them. She’s so easy-going. I’m hoping we get to the trials and she feels the exact same way.”
Remember, she’s just a kid. The magnitude of the achievement might still be a little lost on her.
“It’s hit me. I don’t know if it’s hit her yet. I mean, this is crazy,” said Grassadonia.
With the Olympic delay last summer, the following Games will be in just three years. Grassadonia said if Shackley continues on the right trajectory, at 17, she has a strong possibility of making the team.
Grassadonia said he knew she was good when he first began coaching her, but this was not what he expected. He said it hit him about two years ago that this was a possibility for her.
“Oh my gosh, I don’t know, it’s really mind-boggling!” said Shackley. “I’m not quite there yet, I have a lot of work to do. But, yeah, it’s just crazy if I ever get the chance to make it on their team.”
She’s obviously driven, both in the pool and in the classroom. Shackley will likely be an Academic-All-American as a freshman.
“In five years, I hope I will make it in three on the team, and maybe hoping to break a World Record,” said Shackley. “Or maybe even a National Record.”
She leaves for Omaha on Tuesday, and is excited to be flying for the first time. Shackley will swim on June 4.