All Trey Shackleton and his parents wanted was something to fulfill his physical education requirement.
Little did they know that requirement would become a life-changing experience.
Shackleton, a resident of Weisenberg Township in the Northwestern Lehigh school district, first thought about participating in football or hockey to meet his homeschooling obligation. Once those were quickly dismissed (with some help from his mother), the student briefly gave tennis a try. When that failed, he turned to swimming.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Currently a sophomore, Shackleton got his start on a club team at 10 years old. At 12, he made the decision to dedicate himself to the sport. And this past spring, at 15, he won two district golds in record-breaking fashion. He followed that up with a trip to states, where he captured a pair of medals.
Thanks to those performances, Shackleton has been named the TIMES NEWS Swimmer of the Year.
"We joined a summer pool and they had a summer team," said Sheckleton about his introduction to the sport. "I was awful. I was really slow. My mom said if we're going to swim, we're going to swim properly. So she put me on a club team and from there I really improved to the level where I am now.
"At 12 I had a coach who weeded out the people who weren't going to try hard and the people who actually wanted to go somewhere. I had to consider whether or not I wanted to take swimming seriously or whether I was just there to make friends and have fun. I decided to take it seriously and I started improving astronomically."
Shackleton improved to the point where he was not only racing in prestigious events, but he was dominating them.
Last summer, for example, he starred at the Middle Atlantic Junior Olympics at Penn State. Not only did he win four events and claim a second place in another, but he also received high point honors and broke seven of his club team's (Parkland Area Aquatics Club) records.
"I've been with him for 1 1/2 years and he's improved pretty dramatically," said Ryan Woodruff, his coach at PAAC. "It's impressive what he's done but it's not a surprise the way he trains."
That training consists of two and a half hours in the pool everyday (except Sunday). On top of that Shackleton has an hour of cross-training, which includes activities like abdominal work, light weightlifting and even boxing. This summer, Shackleton plans on doubling up his practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Doubling up is what the teenager, who was home-schooled through eighth grade and is now with PA Cyber School, did on the medal stand at his first-ever District 11 meet.
On the first day of competiton, Shackleton came from behind to capture the 200 freestyle crown. Not only did he earn the gold but he swam the race in 1:43.60 to set a new district record, which was held previously by Saucon Valley's Zach Oatis. The next day he erased Oatis' name in the 500 free, winning the event in a time of 4:41.9.
"It was loud," said Shackleton of districts. "People were cheering. Usually at club meets people only cheer when their kids are in the water ... At districts, everyone is there supporting everyone they know. It's just a really cool and unique atmosphere.
"I knew (the gold) was attainable in the 500. I definitely wasn't expecting it in the 200. I just wanted to do as well as I could in the 200 and my goal was to makes states. I didn't think I was going to win because there were a lot of fast people there. I actually know the person who held both of the old records, so that's really cool to be able to know that I'm faster than him because he's a really, really great swimmer."
Shackleton faced more great swimmers at the PIAA state meet a few weeks after districts. And despite battling nerves and an upper respitory condition, the Tigers' representative reached the finals in both - taking seventh in the 200 and and third in the 500.
"It was his first time at the state meet," said Coach Woodruff. "He and I thought he could benefit from the environment. In the 200 I think he got a little excited plus he was suffering from allergies. We both said, 'Let's come back tomorrow in the 500.' That shows his maturity."
"Everything kind of hit me when I hit the water in the first race (200)," said Shackleton, whose mother won a state (NJ) swimming medal in high school and whose dad is a marathon runner. "I'm there, I'm warming up, and it's just another meet. But once I realize I'm marching out on to the bulkhead and they have videocameras and an announcer and he's announcing every person and their school, I'm like, 'This is states.' I wasn't nervous until then. Then I really got nervous.
"I think I was a bit sick and my taper got a little messed up ... Next year I'm going back. I'll try and do my best and go much faster. Next year I think I'll have a good chance to win one or both of those events."
Shackleton's other future plans include swimming at a Division I college, hopefully via a scholarship, and becoming an orthopedic surgeon. And if those goals weren't lofty enough, representing his country in the Olympics is an ultimate dream.
"I'm very interested in biology and I always wanted to be a doctor ... At this point I'd love to have a trial cut. From there, I'd love to get into the finals. It's very difficult to get to the Olympics, but that would be fantastic."