What’s next for two-time Olympic gold medalist Tom Shields? -NBC Bay Area

He may have collected the highest medals of his career in the 50-meter pools, but two-time Olympic gold medalist Tom Shields has always been the most dominant in short course events thanks to an almost unparalleled weapon: his powerful underwater kicks.

The math is simple: a shorter pool (25 meters or 25 yards) means more turns, more time underwater and more opportunities to gain an advantage at each length before even breaking the surface.

After Shields led UC-Berkeley to an NCAA title a decade ago, the FINA World Cup in Swimming became his main source of short track racing. These World Cup circuits also provide swimmers with a much-needed source of funding Outside the limited windows of major international competitions such as the Olympic Games and the World Aquatics Championships.

Three months after winning gold as a member of the men’s 4 x 100 meter medley relay team at the Tokyo Olympics, Shields recorded a string of victories throughout that year’s World Cup cycle. He dominated the 100m butterfly at each of the four stops of the series (Berlin, Budapest, Doha and Kazan), finishing among the top finishers on the circuit.

But when he returned to Berlin for the first stage of the 2022 series last August, Shields did so under a self-imposed ultimatum – either place high enough to secure prize money again, or seriously consider retiring from the sport that had been his life. Focusing since he was eight years old.

Less than 50 seconds after the opening whistle for that final, Shields was back against the wall – his lungs suffering from a lack of oxygen.

To accumulate the points needed to secure meaningful funding at the end of the series, only a place in the top two will be enough. As he collapsed over the lane rope to his left and turned toward the scoreboard, the illuminated “4” next to his name spelled out his fate.

Over the next two days, Shields finished sixth in the 50-meter butterfly—an event in which he still holds the American record—and 20th in the 200-meter butterfly.

“I’m in the corner now,” he recalls thinking after his last race.

What now?

When he returned to Berkeley the following week, Shields reported to Cal’s Legends Aquatic Center for training, as he had done for more than a decade. But early the next week, he left training and never returned. It’s time to hang up his hat and goggles.

Shields is an “all or nothing” man. He admits that had he taken part in this week’s training sessions, the love he still has for the sport might have motivated him to stay for another “two, three, four, five years”.

“But I can’t do it for my family anymore, and I can’t let my child’s health insurance depend on a 50-second swim in August,” he said.

“To move forward with my life and my family, I wasn’t able to coach full time.”

Shields’ decision has been made – but there is still something he needs to do.

Dave Durden, Cal’s longtime head swimming coach, was across the bay during his team’s annual “triple-distance” meet against Stanford on Nov. 4 when he was surprised by a text message from the swimmer he has coached and mentored for 13 years.

“I remember being on the pool deck, trying to pace our guys and get them ready for the race, while I was trying to process all of that,” Durden recalls of the moment he learned Shields was moving away from competitive swimming. “It’s just kind of that abrupt end to things — like, ‘Oh my God, what now?’

Life on land

Although Shields’ departure from the sport was surprising, the soul-searching questions surrounding his future in the pool began long before that.

“I always said: Well, if this doesn’t happen, I’ll quit; Or this year, if I don’t make that amount, I’ll quit. “This has been the ultimatum forever, and for the last five years I just kept inserting a needle…and then finally, I didn’t.”

Between training and endless travel, Shields said the sport’s demands on his time and energy have made it difficult to strategize post-retirement steps before it’s time to make them. If he could do that, he wondered if the path forward might be clearer.

“It was hard on my head, my soul and my body to leave so suddenly,” he admitted. “It’s certainly not a way to ask anyone to retire or move on, but I’m so concerned with what I’m doing at any given moment that it’s been very difficult for me to build an exit while I’m at it.”

As he left behind the only profession he had ever known, Shields was facing another sudden change in his life: his son Magnus was born in August 2022.

How would he provide for the needs of the newly formed “tribe of three”?

Shields said his first number The resource in answering this question was those who were in the same position as him: swimmers. One of the most important of them was Jason Leszak.

Lesak remains the holder of the fastest 100-meter relay in history, from a historic night in Beijing long ago, and has been out of the pool for a decade. But rather than putting him in the pool alone, it was Lesak’s long career of swimming clinics that led Shields to turn to his fellow Olympian for advice.

“I think it’s a natural way for swimmers,” said Leszak, 47. “When you swim for a long time, you learn a lot and you have a lot to offer.”

Shields reached out to a number of Bay Area swim clubs before connecting with Zach Wolfe, the head coach of the Highlands Dolphins Aquatic Club in San Mateo, where Lezak ran his private practice several months ago.

But days before the official relaunch of Tom Shields Swim Clinics, Shields’ wife, Gianna, was diagnosed with norovirus. Shields and nine-month-old Magnus soon suffered from the same aggressive stomach bug, and by Saturday evening the trio were rushed to the emergency room.

Shields had no choice but to call Wolfe to reschedule the next morning’s clinic for later in the summer.

Fortunately for Shields, another opportunity for his first post-retirement project was on the horizon.

Among the Olympians

In San Francisco three weeks later, Shields climbed the red-carpeted marble stairs between the towering stone columns framing the Entrance to the City Club at the Olympic Club.

“Members Only” reads the sign on the intercom outside, below a large, gold, winged “O.”

“No hats,” the woman behind the front desk pointed out as she looked through membership files and login forms.

“Old school!” “Note the armor.

A shy swimmer, no more than 10 years old, appeared fearfully from behind her father’s leg. One of the club’s coaches felt nervous, so he sat next to her.

“You’ll understand what (Shields) teaches you, and it’ll make you a better swimmer,” the coach said with a reassuring smile. “He is a very good teacher!”

After ditching his street clothes and donning a black-and-red Speedo jacket (stamped with the Olympic Club logo) and his trusty blue glasses, Shields engaged the group of twelve in warm-ups and a series of drills – with a heavy emphasis on his specialty underwater kicks and the butterfly stroke.

Shields hopes to work with his therapist on how to best leverage his past mental health experiences to provide guidance on another important area of ​​sports: performance mindsets and mental health.

The clinic concluded with a short Q&A session, followed by autographs and photos during which two of the day’s top attractions – hitherto hidden by the trusty Fanny Shields set – were revealed.

“This is where they live, most of the time,” Shields admitted, draping his Olympic gold medals, one by one, around the necks of the young men.

New chapter

The flight home from San Francisco looks a little different these days. That’s because for the first time in nearly 14 years, home is no longer Berkeley, the city that served as a launching pad for Shields’ international swimming stardom, and the college town where Shields and Gianna first met.

In May, the family packed up their East Bay lives in a U-Haul and headed up the West Coast to Santa Cruz, where Gianna grew up. The proximity to family, with some built-in friends for Magnus, was a major reason for the move to start this new chapter in the Shields family’s life.

“As of October 2020, there were no grandchildren on Gianna’s side,” Shields said. “Now there are four (Magnus and his three cousins), and we are all together in Santa Cruz.”

Shields loads up his white Toyota Tacoma for a 10-minute drive to the rugged Santa Cruz coast in pursuit of his new favorite hobby: surfing.

“I grew up bodysurfing a lot,” Shields said.

Born in Florida and raised in Huntington Beach, Southern California, Shields is no stranger to coastal life. In fact, proximity to the ocean was another major factor in the family’s move to the self-proclaimed “surf town” of Santa Cruz.

“The waves are probably much better a lot of times here (than San Francisco) … which certainly had a non-zero influence on the decision,” Shields added.

Parked across the street from a popular local surf spot known as “Jack’s” — after the late surf icon Jack O’Neill, pioneer of the neoprene wetsuit and founder of the O’Neill surf brand — Shields donned a surf coat to wriggle out. Inside his wetsuit. . He tucked a board under one arm, descended the moss-filled steps carved into the cliff on which O’Neill’s old house stood and fell into the Pacific waters that were only slightly cooler than normal swimming pool temperature.

Nods, greetings and notes exchanged on the day’s waves with a few of the veterans indicate that Shields is quickly becoming a regular on the Santa Cruz surf scene. But with a tattoo of the Olympic rings hidden beneath his wetsuit, he’s just another friendly face to this crowd of similarly neoprene-clad peers. Perhaps the only indication that this is the man who once beat the great Michael Phelps in the butterfly lies on today’s selection board.

The board extends exactly nine feet. It was a gift after Shields’ Olympic debut seven years ago, and was custom-made by famed surfboard builder Bob Pearson. Under layers of surfboard wax, its fiberglass body bears an American flag emblazoned with the Rio 2016 Olympics logo.

Shields’ main concern about rocking such a board is that it would be too memorable for area pros if his surf etiquette isn’t up to scratch.

“I’m terrible compared to real surfers,” Shields said. “But I’m safe from the water; I enjoyed.”

“Best experience in the world”

He still sees his old ‘colleagues’ despite being away from the racing circuit these days.

“How do you feel that you don’t matter anymore?” a former fellow swimmer recently joked.

Some modern reading options such as Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and the teachings of other Stoics such as Seneca have helped Shields confront this question. It’s important to Gianna, as it has been since the first semester they shared at Berkeley some 13 years ago. And it matters to the little blond boy who waits for him, full of excitement, behind the glass patio doors when he comes home.

“It’s the best experience in the world,” Shields said of his new role as a father. “(Magnus) is starting to crawl, so he’s going to crawl up and look at me with a big smile.”

At home, his suit and skateboard rinsed out and hidden away, Shields resumed his fatherly duties.

“Hey, goose!” He called out, playing a game of hide and seek with Magnus as he approached the patio doors. A quick diaper change later (a team effort, led by Gianna) and the trio was back on the road, heading to a lunchtime favorite: Aloha Island Grille on Portola Drive.

Food on hand – Spam musubi (a Hawaiian classic of Spam and rice wrapped in nori seaweed) for Shields, a bowl and box of Hawaiian Sun for Gianna and tupperware from home for Magnus – the Shields family makes for shoveling at The Hook, another riding area The surf is just a short walk from Jack’s.

Shields knows the future still holds some uncertainty: As Lesak advised, swim clinics alone won’t be able to pay the bills forever. Maybe a job in sales will be enough when that day comes, Shields wonders; The marketing work he does for his clinics has provided some practices in this field.

However, for now, Shields stands on top of the cliffs with Magnus and stares at the surfers spread out along the coast, feeling more content with life than he has in some time. The clinic’s business is growing by the day, and here in Santa Cruz he has a family, and he has his own surfboards — “a lot” of the latter, he said with a laugh.

“It’s not that my story is over,” Shields emphasized. “I just have a new role.”

(tags for translation) Berkeley

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