Zach Shattuck competes at the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials on June 17, 2021 in Minneapolis.
MINNEAPOLIS — Zach Shattuck isn’t really a numbers guy, but he is definitely a competitive guy.
So while he focuses on the qualitative aspects of swimming and the experience he gains with each race, he also knows what the American and world records are in his events, and when he’s getting close.
“If you’re not aware, like, what are you doing?” Shattuck said. “It gives you something to look at. You see it, you write it down, you’re like, ‘What are the steps it’s going to take to get me there?’ The numbers push you, but it’s not a driving force. You have to enjoy the experience to make it worth it.”
Shattuck, who’s hoping to make his Paralympic Games debut this summer, is enjoying the experience of being at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials this week in Minneapolis, and breaking records at the same time. On Thursday he set an American record in the morning preliminaries in the SB6 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1 minute, 23.76 seconds before winning the final later that night. He also set an American record in the S6 50-meter butterfly with a time of 33.33 seconds.
He knew he’d set the first record when he saw his time. The second was a surprise.
“That was a record I really hadn’t been considering touching,” said Shattuck, a Mt. Airy, Maryland, native who was born with dwarfism. “Fly’s probably my third stroke so I didn’t actually know what the record was going in. Evan (Austin) told me after I broke it by one one-hundredth of a second, so that was pretty cool.”
This is Shattuck’s second time at the trials.
Five years ago he’d only been swimming for about two years, having picked it up in college at Frostburg State University after meeting then-head coach Justin Anderson. He excelled quickly, winning four events and setting two U.S. records at the 2016 trials in Charlotte. Being still relatively new to the sport, however, his world rankings weren’t quite where they needed to be and he was a second alternate for the team that went to Rio.
Since that time, Shattuck has become a mainstay of the U.S. team. Now 25, he’s graduated from college, started assisting Anderson after he took a job as head swimming coach at the University of Mary Washington and become a resident at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
He’s also gained a lot of confidence and gotten more comfortable being in a super-competitive environment where he’s surrounded by the best of the best, he said. More experienced teammates such as Austin have also served as role models, sharing tips and pointers to help him get where he wants to be.
“To be in the position I am now versus back then, I mean, I was a kid who was nervous and just excited to be (at the trials), really,” he said. “Now I have more experience and I’ve gotten to meet a lot of really cool people. I’m in a much better position than I was five years ago.”
Friday was day two of the three-day meet, and Shattuck was involved in one of the closest races of the night. He and teammate Connor Gioffreda were neck-and-neck in the men’s S6 400-meter freestyle, and Gioffreda touched just before Shattuck in 5:30.74. Shattuck’s time was 5:30.87.
“That was pretty fun,” he said. “I hadn’t swum the 400 free since the 2016 trials. I don’t train distance, I’m not a huge distance person. I was trying to swim it to get the minimum entry time so I can swim it in Tokyo just to have an extra event to do while I’m there because it’s one of the last days and most of my events are pretty early on. Connor’s been my teammate five years now. We do better when we push each other so it’s always fun to race him. He got me on the touch today but it was awesome just to be out there with him.”
Shattuck admits his story isn’t particularly common, having gotten involved in a sport in college only to find himself on the verge of making a Paralympic team seven years later. But he’s certainly enjoying it.
“I’d never been involved in swimming, never grew up with swimming, and now swimming’s sort of completely taken over,” he said. “It’s pretty interesting. If you’d asked me seven years ago where I thought I’d be, this is not where I would have been thinking about.”