- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

BEIJING | Following the Olympic swimming trials in early July, the entire U.S. team went straight to Palo Alto, Calif., for training camp and to begin final preparations for the games.

All except Eric Shanteau, who had qualified for the team in the 200 breaststroke.

“We were trying to figure out why he was late to camp,” Aaron Piersol said.

When Shanteau did arrive, he told Piersol and Brendan Hansen — his training partners in Austin, Texas — the reason for his absence.

Testicular cancer.

When he left the room Hansen looked at Piersol.

“Wow, this is a lot,” Hansen said.

A lot to handle for Shanteau, who had just made his first Olympic team. A lot to process for his teammates. How does he want them to react? A lot for everybody.

But incredibly, Shanteau has made it easy for everybody involved, training the same way, hanging out the same as before and not bringing up his disease as a reason not to do something — especially swim in the Olympics.

Shanteau makes his Olympic debut Tuesday morning EDT.

“The hard part is done, and my immediate goal was accomplished in making the team,” he said last week. “Anybody who makes the team is in a position to get on the podium. I’m definitely looking to get into the top three, and I think I have a great chance to do that if I show up and swim the race I’m capable of.”

Shanteau missed out on the 2004 Olympics by finishing third in the 200 and 400 individual medleys. Having switched his focus to the breaststroke, he was confident this spring about his chances of reaching Beijing.

But in mid-June he didn’t feel right and went to the doctor. A second examination diagnosed the cancer at an early stage. It was a week before trials. Instead of taking the doctor’s advice for aggressive treatment, Shanteau — after getting his doctor’s approval — continued training. He finished second at trials to qualify for the Olympics.

Since telling his team and the world about his disease, Shanteau has found it “pretty easy actually” to focus on swimming and mentions Lance Armstrong as an inspiration.

“There’s a lot more to life than the Olympics, and I learned that lesson pretty quickly,” he said. “Lance Armstrong is the guy that I looked up to even before I was diagnosed. When you look at what he did after he was diagnosed, you can’t help but be inspired. My [approach] is I will be cured, and I will beat this. It was not going to control my life.”

Shanteau undergoes regular blood tests and other exams to make sure the cancer hasn’t spread. He has traveled with the team each step — from California to Singapore to China.

“He’s an over-worker,” said U.S. coach Eddie Reese, also Shanteau’s full-time coach. “He always works harder than you want and more often than you want.”

Following the Olympics, Shanteau will begin treatment, and he acknowledges down days are a part of his present and future.

“What I show the general public is the positive side, but it’s been a roller coaster ride,” he said. “This isn’t the flu. It’s cancer. When I’m in those down times, that’s when I look to my teammates. They help me through the down downs when I think about it more. It’s on my mind constantly, and I can’t help that. But with this support staff, they’re going to help me through it.”

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