0

Eric Shanteau: Soaking it up
Swimmer to return to begin cancer treatment

Eric Shanteau spent his Thursday evening - Thursday morning for us - in front of more TV cameras.

The Parkview graduate sat on a stool alongside his father Rick, talking with "The Today Show's" Meredith Vieira at NBC's Beijing studio about his eventful two months that included relentless, very public discussions about his testicular cancer. It was odd to do a morning show appearance at night, not that Shanteau hasn't learned to adapt.

His life forever changed this summer with the addition of two titles to his name. He's now Eric Shanteau, Olympian and Eric Shanteau, cancer patient.

While his 2008 Olympic races may be over, the interview made it clear once again that his time in the spotlight likely won't fade anytime soon. Shanteau and his cancer fight are sure to be followed closely in the media, even if his medal quest is over.

"The majority of (the media interviews), the bulk of it is done for now," Shanteau said via telephone from Beijing on Thursday morning. "I'm sure they'll be some things on the other side of surgery coming up. I'm sure they'll want to do some follow-up stuff."

Shanteau made the semifinals of the 200 breaststroke this week, but fell short of the finals despite a lifetime-best swim of 2 minutes, 10.10 seconds (only 0.13 seconds out of the final) in his qualifying heat. The two swims likely will be his only in Olympic competition; Shanteau said Thursday he is "99 percent sure" he won't swim competitively for another four years, essentially ruling out the 2012 Olympics.

But his work is far from done.

His first task is returning to Atlanta's Emory University for cancer treatment - he leaves China on Wednesday - although his future calendar will be flooded with speaking engagements and appearances aimed at fundraising for cancer research.

"My agent's been talking to a lot of people already and we've got a few lined up," said Shanteau, whose father is battling lung cancer. "I plan to do a lot of work for the cancer organizations."

That's why Shanteau has been compared frequently as of late to Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winning cyclist, cancer survivor and noteworthy advocate for cancer research.

Armstrong has sent correspondence to Shanteau, who is certain the two will meet in the near future. The 23-year-old swimmer trains in Austin, Texas, also the location of Armstrong's cancer foundation.

"It's weird to hear (the comparisons with Armstrong), but it's really cool to be mentioned in the same sentence with him, too," said Shanteau, who doesn't have any of Armstrong's yellow "Live Strong" garb but did flash a "Cancer Sucks" T-shirt on "The Today Show" that was worn by the late Ralph Crocker, one of Shanteau's Auburn coaches.

Shanteau has been forced into the limelight as a spokesperson for cancer research and for those dealing with the disease, a situation that seems like a burden to outsiders. But he doesn't mind the attention, hoping to turn it into an avenue to raise cancer awareness and funnel more money into research.

His final two years at Auburn were spent making business presentations to large groups, which he said prepared him for the media blitz and other appearances, like the ones he does for the company who sponsors him, Tyr Sport.

What he didn't know much about was cancer, but he's gotten a crash course between his own illness and his father's health issues. He knows some details of his scheduled treatment at Emory, though he won't know much until his appointment and possible surgery. He said any procedures likely will be the week of Aug. 25.

"We won't know for sure what I have until it's outside my body," Shanteau said. "I'm hoping I don't have to do chemo or radiation."

Since the disease was caught early, the SwimAtlanta product is able to stay in Beijing through Wednesday. He attends every swimming session to cheer on his teammates and is hoping to sneak a trip to the track and field competition on Saturday night.

The swimmers have a free day Sunday, when he will make it a point to see the Great Wall of China. His immediate family, including his father, got to soak up most of the Olympic experience with him.

"Luckily my family's here so I don't have to take them so many souvenirs home," Shanteau joked. "I got them into the (Olympic) Village and they've got so much crap. The Village has stuff that you can't get at the venues so they were buying it up."

The family got to see what likely will be Shanteau's last competitions for some time. He expected to take a rest after the Olympics, but his may be longer with the impending rounds of medical appointments.

However, following the cancer treatments - he expects to beat the cancer and constantly repeats his father's advice "You have cancer, it doesn't have you" - he plans a return to competitive swimming. As long as he is competing, he plans to train in Austin.

"I considered retiring at the end of the summer," Shanteau said. "But for me, I'm in a position where I'm still improving, getting better. And I still love to do it. You want to go out on a good note and I would have if I retired after the Olympics. But I still love to train and compete. I'm not going to go for another four years, but maybe another year or two."

Expect the remainder of his career to be in the spotlight.

And if he never reaches these kind of heights in swimming again, Shanteau has made his mark. He's the guy who found out he had cancer just before U.S. Olympic Trials, yet still made the Olympic team and postponed treatment to chase his dream.

With what he accomplished, medal or no medal, he isn't disappointed.

"You've heard me say this before, but it's one of those bittersweet things," Shanteau said. "I swam my best time (ever) so I can't complain. I wanted to be 2:09 because I've been in the low 2:10 range for awhile. But I knew from the beginning that getting into the final was going to be the hardest thing.

"I knew if I made that (final) heat, I'd be in the race. Anything can happen in that final race. But especially with everything I've been through the past few months, I can't be unhappy."