Shannon Vreeland is an Olympic gold medalist swimmer turned law student. This Kansas City native is our #WCW because she uses her many talents and achievements, competitively and academically, to give back. She is motivated, hard working and she uses her competitive drive to grow.
1. What's your story? What makes you unique?
I grew up in Kansas City as a young swimmer, wanting to swim in college and, maybe one day, make the NCAA championships. Not only did I qualify for the NCAA by the end of my freshman year at the University of Georgia, I got to be a part of two NCAA championship winning teams, and ultimately made the Olympic Team, winning a gold medal as part of the 800 freestyle relay in London. I suffered plenty of ups and downs in my professional swimming career, but got to spend an additional two years doing the sport that I love. Now I'm back in school, studying at Vanderbilt Law School in Nashville.
2. What motivates you?
A thing that motivates me is competition. It isn’t always, but can be, competition with other people. As a competitive athlete and a first year law student, there is more than enough competition with other people to go around. I'm also very competitive with myself. Coaches always used to say that they didn't have to yell at me when I had a bad race or didn't perform as well as I would have liked, because they knew I would be harder on myself than they probably could. I always strive to do my best for myself and others. That competitive drive to be better than I've been before, and to continuously improve and strengthen and grow, gives me motivation on days where it’s hard to push myself or I don’t want to do the things I need to do.
3. Who is a hero of yours?
A hero of mine is my mother. I never knew where I got my incessant desire to be overly involved and hold myself to the highest standard, while simultaneously trying to be there for anyone and everyone that needed me. My mother is the type who would take on absolutely anything, and really push herself to do it above and beyond. She was our elementary school mascot, ran and organized an incredible number of events at the school, was a girl scout leader, active PTA parent, cheerleading coach, board member of my swim team, and so much more. She was so involved in our lives, and also a person you could never hesitate to call on when you needed her. Even now, when I'm overwhelmed and can't quite figure out how I'm going to manage all of my responsibilities, calling my mom for advice is always a thing I will do first. Even if it's just a five minute phone call, I always feel like things will be ok once I've had a quick chat with her. On top of it all, she's the friendliest, kindest woman who, ever since I can remember, people have always made a remark about how sweet and kind she is upon meeting her.
4. Give us a road map of your career. How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up swimming in Kansas City. I never was the top ranked athlete in my age group, and I never made National Select Camps or bigger meets. Swimming was always my favorite sport, but I never saw it as a way of making a living. I focused a lot on my academics throughout high school and undergrad because I knew that professional swimming wasn't something many people did, and I needed to be able to start life after swimming. After the Olympics and 11 or more international meets, the thing I'd always thought was outside the realm of possibilities suddenly became very possible. I was contacted by Speedo once I'd finished my collegiate career. They signed me on for a couple years, and suddenly I was a professional swimmer; something I hadn't ever imagined being likely.
Being a swimmer that relished in the team aspect of swimming, thrived in relays, loved knowing that there was a bigger purpose for what I was training for, worked extra hard because people were counting on me to perform at the end of the season, I felt that something was always missing as a professional. Swimming for myself just wasn't the same. I still loved the sport, but my heart wasn't in it. My last year, I took the LSATs, applied to law school and decided to attend Vanderbilt Law. Now, I'm here in Nashville, loving law school, making new friends and still getting used to this new life, separate from my athletic past, and starting to find jobs and get ready to begin a career outside what was my comfort zone.
I still stay involved in swimming. I speak at local schools, teach clinics with national companies and work occasionally with Speedo to speak to groups of swimmers. I love being able to pursue my new passion and career, while remaining connected to the world that was such a big part of my life for so long.
5. What's your future plan? Your goals?
I just got my first real job that doesn't involve swimming. I'm excited to be up and onto new things this summer, working as a summer associate at a law firm. I'm still not sure what kind of law I want to practice, but I hope to complete law school, keep improving from where I was this first semester, hopefully clerk for a judge after law school and then move on to practicing!
6. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
Be humble, work hard, and never give up what you want most for what you want right now.
7. What is something you feel strongly about (a cause, belief, etc.)?
I feel strongly about using your interests, passions and the talents you've been given to give back. I've loved being able to volunteer, work with kids and give back to the sport that has given me so much. It excites me that, throughout my career, I'll be able to use my newfound passion and interests to do pro bono work and give back to others who need help.
8. What's one of the coolest things you've ever done?
When I was in middle school, I would to cut out pictures of swimmers that I really looked up to out of magazines and put them on a Pringles can that held all of my pencils. This year, I got to teach a clinic with Klete Keller, one of those swimmers who had retired before I came onto the swimming scene. Three years ago, I got to set an American record on a relay with Natalie Coughlin. During the clinic, I was telling the kids the story of getting to meet Natalie and swimming that relay with her. Then it hit me that Klete was standing there as well, working the clinic with me. So, I told the kids that he joined Natalie on my Pringles can. I got a little choked up as I did it, realizing exactly how far I'd come, and how happy my 7th grade self would be. I also realized how much of my experience I took for granted and how excited I am now to have had that experience
9. Anything we haven't asked that you'd like to talk about.
I will end with one last piece of advice. Every day you have the opportunity to make a difference, whether in the world, to another person, or within yourself. Every day presents so many opportunities to reach out to a friend having a tough time, do something small for another person or make a change in your life for the better. A lot of times we don't see how a small gesture will make any long term impact, and maybe just don't do it for that reason. However, a lot of times we underestimate the impact that a kind word, smile or quick text can have.