By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
Steiner swimmer Kendall Shields competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha from June 26 through July 3 in two events, the women’s 100 and 200 meter backstroke, and it was an unforgettable experience.
Though Shields did not place in the top four to qualify for the U.S. Olympic swimming team, she also did not expect to at the young age of 15. The event was thrilling for her nonetheless and an opportunity to swim with and learn from the best swimmers in the country.
“Anyone who is anyone in the swimming world was at the meet, so I got to warm up with, see and even chat with some of the Olympians,” said Shields. “I talked to (four time Olympic gold medalist) Missy Franklin a little because I had met her at a previous meet… It was super cool to watch (other swimmers) go through their pre-race and warm up routines as well to see how they handle success and disappointment away from the cameras.”
Competing at this level came with perks.
“The facility was absolutely amazing and the ‘backstage’ area was awesome. There was a second full-sized competition pool as well as a few more short course lanes for warm up in the back.”
The hungry teen swimmer especially appreciated the, “athlete lounge that was stocked with smoothies, chocolate milk, bananas, protein bars and other snacks — and a ping pong table, video games, and therapy dogs.”
Shields also took advantage of the free massages offered to competitors and got three massages during her stay.
As host of the eight-day event, Omaha went out of its way to make guests feel welcome, providing additional activities around town for swimmers and their families. But the highlight for Shields was, “the finals at night where the swimmers qualify for the Olympic team, (which) were so high energy and nerve-wracking to watch especially because there was a handful of upsets this year.”
The event aven afforded Shields a small taste of fame. One day while using the swimmers’ entrance, which was always mobbed with autograph seekers, a girl stopped Shields and asked for hers. “I was shocked, because I’ve never signed anything for a ‘fan’ before and I never thought anyone would ask me for an autograph. Pretty soon, there was about 10-15 other kids that had crowded around me… It was truly a special moment I will carry with me forever.”
Shields, who was one of the youngest swimmers to compete in her event and who turned 16 shortly thereafter, left Omaha inspired about her future in swimming.
“Watching other athletes achieve the dream you have for yourself gives you that extra fire to chase it even harder than before. Seeing all the college teams at the meet also made me really excited for collegiate swimming. I can’t wait to see what the next four years hold for me and hopefully I will be back in Omaha soon,” she said.