Going for the Gold: Casandra Shaffer seeks to continue mother's legacy

By Annemarie Blanco | June 18, 2015, 12:17 p.m. (ET)

Casandra Shaffer, pictured at the 2015 Can American Swimming Championship games, is one of 20 U.S. swimmers who will compete at the ParaPan American Games.

Twice a week, Going for the Gold will highlight a member of Team USA’s Parapan American roster leading up to the games beginning on August 7. Features will take a deeper look at a member of each of the 14 Paralympic sports that the U.S. will compete in during the 2015 Parapan American Games, held in Toronto. The first installment spotlights swimmer Casandra Shaffer (Bend, Oregon).

To say that was swimming was in Casandra Shaffer’s blood would be an understatement.

At 15 years old, the swimmer looks to follow in her mother’s footsteps of Paralympic glory with a spot on the podium. If she achieves her goal, the pair will become the first mother-daughter Paralympic swimming duo in recent history.

But, before the thought of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games even arises, Shaffer must first prove herself in Toronto this August. As one of the fresher faces on Team USA’s Parapan American roster, the swimmer faces her toughest challenge yet, her first international competition.

Most teens her age would be frightened of the unknown, but not Shaffer. She’s ready for the challenge and eager to join her 19 other teammates, most of whom she met just last weekend during the Jimi Flower’s Classic at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

“I’m most excited about getting to be with my team, they’re amazing and really fun to be with,” said Shaffer. “The coaching staff is awesome, and I think just getting to spend more time with them is going to be one of the highlights of Toronto. I’ve gotten to see Olympic and Paralympic opening ceremonies but this will be my actual first one as a competitor.”

And the teen doesn’t shy away from the spotlight, she actually welcomes it.

“This last season we had our annual awards banquet where the coaches talk about different meets and they spoke about me and my meet,” Shaffer gushed. “It was the loudest cheer of the night with our whole swim club and it just made me feel like I was on top of the world at that moment.”

While Shaffer’s last seven years of competitive swimming have come with plenty of joyful moments, training hasn’t always been so easy.

“Having the days where you don’t swim your best doesn’t feel good, but in order to have the ups, you have to have the downs as well,” said Shaffer. “Getting through those kinds of meets or those kinds of days has been the toughest for me.”

A native of Bend, Oregon, Shaffer’s family history of swimming extends far beyond her sister Sarah and their mother Jody. In fact, the Shaffer family’s participation in the sport goes back generations.

“Both my sisters were swimmers and my dad loved the water when he was younger,” said Casandra’s mother Jody.  “When you grow up around all the lakes and rivers in Oregon, swimming is something that just comes naturally and you don’t really know life without a pool or swimming. Being around water is kind of with all of us I think.”

But Shaffer didn’t grow up dreaming of countless hours in Olympic-sized pools.  It wasn’t until witnessing her sister’s practice at a local swim club that she delved into competitive swimming.

“It was more just out of boredom,” said Shaffer. “Watching my sister do it for two weeks while I just sat there doing nothing. I got up to meet some of the older kids and they became my inspiration to try.”

What began as a hobby quickly grew into a lifelong passion for Shaffer, who has her sights set on a Paralympic gold medal win. Thankfully, she has a mother that has experienced exactly where she has been. Someone who can help guide her throughout the journey. 

Jody Shaffer took the bronze medal at the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games in the 100-meter breaststroke. An avid supporter of both of her daughters’ swimming careers, the Paralympic medalist is eager to be a sideline cheerleader every step of the way.

“When you enter a stadium like the Paralympic stadium and it’s sold out, the roar of the crowd is incredible,” Jody Shaffer said. “I can’t wait to share that experience with Casandra and let her experience it for herself as well. What I keep telling her is to really keep her focus of what her goals are, where she wants to be and who she wants to compete against. Casandra is incredibly smart and a really inspiring young lady. She amazes me every day and I’m just so proud to be her mom.”

 “Things have changed a lot since I was in the Paralympics,” explained Jody Shaffer. “It’s gotten a lot bigger and built a lot more fame…We had to hold fundraisers back in our day to be able to even go, so it’s a lot different than it was back then. For me, I’m playing catch up on trying to understand how all of this works but at least it’s a little bit more relaxing with her making the Parapan team now.”

But, Shaffer knows that the task ahead will not be an easy one. With the support of her family, coaches and swim club, she’s ready to tackle the competition full force.

Parapan American swimming competitions will be held at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre beginning on Saturday, August 8 and concluding on the evening of Friday, August 14. The U.S. roster includes 13 female and seven male swimmers including Paralympians Anna Johannes, Mallory Weggemann, Evan Austin, Curtis Lovejoy and Tom Miazga. For more information on the upcoming Parapan American Games visit Toronto2015.org.