She begins the day with a 7,500-yard workout, goes to class, returns for a 5,000-yard workout, studies, goes to sleep, and wakes up at 5 a.m. to do it all again.
AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto
Georgia'a Shannon Vreeland swims the women's 500 yard freestyle during the SEC swimming and diving championships at the Gabrielsen Natatorium in Athens, Ga., Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2014.
An average day for a swimmer, but Shannon Vreeland is not an average swimmer.
Vreeland won a gold medal in the 800 freestyle relay at the 2012 London Olympics. She returned to Georgia to break more records and lead the Georgia women’s team to victory, including last year’s NCAA title.
A second consecutive title could come this week as he NCAA championships start today in Minneapolis.
“Sometimes people can get too comfortable, after coming back from an Olympics, Georgia swimmer Will Freeman said. Vreeland, he said, is “always working hard and trying to get better.”
Vreeland, a senior, has had her taste of gold, and now she wants more — not just to win more, but to give more back to the community.
“I like being able to give back to swimming, since it’s given me so much,” said Vreeland, who helps coach clinics for Athens Bulldog Swim Club.
Before college, Vreeland swam for Pete Malone on the Kansas City Blazers. Malone was arguably the toughest age-group coach in the United States, Georgia senior associate head coach Harvey Humphries said.
Malone challenged Vreeland in meets and made her swim in every single event.
“The one thing we knew about Shannon when we recruited her is that she would not be afraid of hard work,” Humphries said.
Vreeland, who graduated from Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park, Kan., competed on the national youth team from 2008 to 2010. She considering attending Florida, Virginia and Minnesota, but ended up choosing Georgia where she felt most comfortable, she said.
Vreeland came out of her freshman year at Georgia with a number of accomplishments. She won the 500 freestyle at the Southeastern Conference championships and helped the team finish first in the 800 freestyle relay at NCAAs. She was named First-Team All-SEC and to the SEC’s All-Freshman team.
Despite having such a successful freshman year, Vreeland didn’t really have her heart set on competing in the 2012 Olympics until she qualified for those trials.
“I’m very logical and very realistic going into things,” Vreeland said, “so I really just wanted to make the 2016 Olympic Games and that was really the focus.”
That focus changed when she made the Olympic team and earned a gold medal in the 800 freestyle relay with Georgia teammate Allison Schmitt.
Post-Olympics, Vreeland won three relay gold medals at the 2013 world championships.
She also continues to improve her personal times and assist in leading the Bulldogs to victory.
“Beyond her Olympic and world status, it’s great having her in the lane next to you,” teammate Chase Kalisz said.
She is a part of the legacy of the women’s team at Georgia. The team has not lost at home in a dual meet since 1995.
“She is like an animal in the pool,” teammate Rachel Zilinskas said. “She goes times in practice that people can’t even think of going. She just gives her best effort at everything that we do.”
Despite the fame and attention after her Olympic medal, Vreeland said she did not feel she had changed very much. Humphries said otherwise.
“You come back different every time you come back from a U.S. national team,” said Humphries, “but when you come back from the Olympics, you have this huge amount of self-confidence and focus and it rubs off on people around you.”
The Olympics significantly boosted Vreeland’s confidence, which has helped her give back to her team and her community. Vreeland serves as captain to her team along with teammate Melanie Margalis.
“They’re never really putting themselves out there and screaming and stuff,” Humphries said, “but they’re just quietly out there and everyone knows they can count on them.”
The economics major has received numerous academic awards. She is the communications chair of Palladia, which is a secret society seen as the “highest honor a woman can achieve at the University of Georgia.” She also serves as treasurer of Omicron Delta Kappa, an honor society focused on leadership development.
“You have to understand that the academic side is as important as the swimming side,” Vreeland said. “The time I put in for swimming, I have to put in at least the same effort for school.”
Vreeland spends some of her spare time going to local schools to talk to students about issues such as anti-bullying. She remembers being influenced by Olympians talking with her club team and wants to have a similar impact.
“I think everyone who gets to that level has something to say to kids that could inspire them to keep going or could really hit a chord with them,” said Vreeland.
After winning an Olympic gold medal, “I felt like I was more justified to speak to kids about my experience,” said Vreeland.
Her experience could include the 2016 Summer Olympics, but she’s not thinking too far ahead.
“I really think about things individually, year by year, so this year the team to make is the Pan Pacific Championships,” Vreeland said.
With a lot of hard work.
The Grady Sports Bureau is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.