By: Jane Kelly and Vinny Varsalona | University Communications
Shannon Rauth will walk the University of Virginia’s famed Lawn during May’s Final Exercises. However, she still has one more year before she can collect her undergraduate degree in sociology from the College of Arts & Sciences and her master’s degree in elementary education from the Curry School of Education.
“We don’t get either diploma until the end of five years, even if you’ve finished your undergraduate degree,” the varsity swimmer said, “but we have the option to walk.”
Rauth still needs one year of student teaching to finish at UVA, so why is she walking now?
“I want to walk with my teammates,” she said on a recent sunny day, sitting on a white bench in one of the pavilion gardens that stem from the Lawn.
That dedication to team began for Rauth at the age of 5, when she started swimming for the Upper Mainline YMCA swim team in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. In March, Rauth retired from competitive swimming. She will come full circle this summer, when she returns to the pool deck in Berwyn to coach the next crop of 5-year-olds, who can only hope to reach the competitive heights that have been a hallmark of her swimming career. Rauth shared some of her story with UVA Today.
Q. What drew you to swimming?
A. It was always something that my family enjoyed doing together. Both my parents swam and that is how they met. When I was little, I wanted to swim on a team and win ribbons. It starts off with that.
I’m a very, very competitive person and that was a really great outlet for me growing up, to be competitive and not let it bleed too much into every other part of my life. I really enjoy racing and being in high competition. As I got older, I couldn’t imagine my life without it. I was very lucky to be part of some amazing teams that were like second families. It started off as a love for the water, but it kind of grew more into what the sport does for you as a person.
Q. What is your best stroke?
A. I’m a freestyler primarily, but I do butterfly as well. Those are my two strokes. I’m the sprinter, so I do the 50- and 100-meter free and the 100 butterfly.
Q. Do you listen to music to pump up before a race?
A. I actually don’t. I swim way better when I am super calm. If I listen to any music, it’s really calm music. If it’s really hyped up, I get way too tense. So I am normally someone who doesn’t really listen to music at all during meets and has to goof around.
Q. How did you end up at UVA?
A. Thinking about where I wanted to go to college started in my sophomore year. I knew all of my life that I wanted to swim in college, because I just loved it and I knew swimming would open a lot of doors for me as I got better at it.
I sat down with my coach and talked about what I was looking for in a school. I wanted to be somewhere where I wasn’t the best person on the team or the worst person on the team, so I could contribute. That was the most important thing to me.
I knew at that point that swimming was going to be over for me when I was done with college. I was being realistic. I wasn’t going to be making any money as a professional. So I knew swimming was going to be over and I needed to set myself up for success outside of the pool, and academics is a huge part of that. I was looking at schools that were very impressive academically.
So if you put those two things together, that’s UVA. When I came here I was like, “I love this place so much.”
Q. What is your proudest moment on UVA’s team?
A. Making [the] NCAA [Championships] my third year as an individual. I’ve gone every year on relays, but my third year I made it by myself and posted a time that I never thought I could reach. I had been working so hard. I’d had a rough week before that and got my head in the right place. I was determined to just enjoy the experience and smile and take it for what it was. I swam so fast and it was so cool to see all of my teammates on the side of the pool just freak out when I touched the wall. I swam the 100 butterfly in 52.70. I had never broken 53 seconds before that. My best time was 53.1 before that.
My other fondest accomplishment was being elected co-captain; I think that was even better than breaking 53 seconds. It is just such a huge honor to represent the team, and that your teammates want you to be making decisions for them and being the liaison between the teammates and the coaches.
Q. So you’ve retired from swimming. Your last race was a relay that included UVA swimming great Leah Smith. How does it feel to hang up your goggles?
A. We are a winter sport. I was lucky enough to finish at NCAAs, which is the last meet of the season, and I swam in a relay for my last race. It was my dream to finish on a relay. Even better than that, it was an all fourth-year relay. It was an all-freestyle relay and I swam the first leg. I was trying to earn my best time, and I did, by .01 seconds. You know what? I’ll take it.
It gave me good closure to finish on that note with the people I love and have done everything with for the last four years. We sobbed for an hour afterward. It was just really sad having something that is that big a part of your life come to a close.