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'Pretty overwhelming'
Olympian, Parkview grad diagnosed with cancer

LAWRENCEVILLE - The emotional high of the crowning achievement in Eric Shanteau's athletic career - making the U.S. Olympic swimming team - came on the heels of perhaps one of the most frightening moments of his life.

The Lilburn native and Parkview High graduate revealed to the Associated Press on Friday he has been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

He learned of the diagnosis just a week before he qualified for the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics with a strong effort July 3 at the Olympic trials, but kept it quiet until Friday.

"That's about as big a bomb as you can have dropped on you," Shanteau said in a telephone interview with the Daily Post on Friday. "It was pretty overwhelming at the time, and don't get me wrong, it still is."

The 24-year-old's announcement caught many by surprise, though his parents Rick and Janet Shanteau of Decatur, other family members and a few close confidants, like longtime SwimAtlanta coach Chris Davis, knew about the cancer diagnosis prior to the trials.

"He's called me about every day since he found out," said Davis, who coached Shanteau at Lawrenceville-based SwimAtlanta. "At the time, the overriding feeling was he'd be able to compete at the trials, but there was probably no way he'd be able to swim in the games. But I think the most important thing for him was just making the team.

"He's waited four years to kind of right the ship. He's had a lot of ups and downs over that time. All Eric could see was making the Olympic team. ... Now I think he has more in the tank and could do well there."

Rick Creed, the current head swimming coach at Mill Creek High School who coached Shanteau at Parkview, did not know about his former swimmer's illness until Friday. But he said there were signs other things were on Shanteau's mind after his second-place finish in the 200-meter breaststroke at the trials, held in Omaha, Neb.

"Eric is a private person, and ... usually keeps things like that close to the vest," Creed said. "What was funny was, I watched his face when he qualified, and I thought he'd show more emotion. Now it kind of makes sense."

Shanteau did update family members and a few close friends from the start. Those people are not surprised by his decision to forgo treatment until after he returns from Beijing next month. And while there is natural concern about his health, Shanteau said they are no more than normal under the circumstances.

"Obviously, their No. 1 concern is for my health," Shanteau said. "But they also know I've gotten opinions from doctors and we made a wise decision. They would've stepped in and said something if they felt otherwise."

Indeed, Shanteau's condition will be closely watched by doctors, and he has said he will withdraw from the Olympics if there is any indication his cancer could spread.

That approach has helped allay some of the concerns of those close to him.

"He's under tremendous care," Davis said. "The timing of this was awful, but he and I talked about it, and we both felt like this is his time (to go to the Olympics).

"And his doctors have said because it was caught so early, the good news for Eric is (the cancer) is 100 percent treatable. He's going to be fine."

Shanteau is determined to take to the pool in Beijing next month and do his best to reach the medal stand. However, that is nothing compared to determination Shanteau had in simply making the Olympic team despite his diagnosis after coming up just 0.34 seconds short four years ago.

Despite the burden of his health on his mind, he reached his goal by turning in a personal best time of 2 minutes, 10.36 seconds in the 200 breaststroke finals.

"I've been doing this so long, that I sort of go on autopilot after a while," Shanteau said of how he blocked out health concerns. "Once I get into competition mode, I don't think about much else."

Shanteau said keeping his focus was also behind his decision to keep everyone else in the dark until more than a week after he'd qualified for the games.

"The idea before the trials was that it was so close to the trials, I didn't want it to be a distraction," Shanteau said. "That also gave me time to be comfortable with it and talking about it. Now, it can be an inspiration story like (seven-time Tour de France champion) Lance (Armstrong).

"It's a load off my mind now. It was probably best (to reveal the news now) rather than sneaking around the (Olympic) village while going through tests. My camp felt it was best to say something now."

Shanteau said he will undergo surgery once he returns from Beijing, though a specific date has not yet been set.

Until then, he has a lot of well wishes from home.

"I hate that his had to happen to him now," Creed said. "This should be a momentous occasion for him. ... But in all the years I've coached, I've never met an athlete as disciplined as Eric Shanteau. If anyone can beat this, it's Eric.

"He's a great kid. Hopefully, the Beijing experience will be a positive one for him, and he can come home and get healthy."