On the first day of the U.S. Olympic Swimming trials, Aaron Shackell of the Carmel Swim Club became the first swimmer to qualify for the U.S. swim team heading to Paris for this summer's Olympic Games. The 18-year-old swimmer was the first to use a touchpad in the men's 400m freestyle event, officially qualifying for his first Olympic Games. Shackell edged out Kieran Smith, the bronze medalist from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, who will join him in Paris as the top two swimmers in each event are named to the U.S. squad bound for the Olympics.

Indeed, it was an impressive string of firsts in a perfectly timed breakout summer for the Indiana teenager who is an imposing figure on the pool deck, not entirely due to his 6' 6" tall frame. Shackell is far from one of the USA's most recognizable swimmers, arguably a surprise winner of this event, but the newcomer is someone to watch in Paris. 

A few minutes later, Katie Ledecky won the women's 400m freestyle to the roaring approval of 20,689 knowledgeable swim fans.  The attendance was a record for a swim meet in the USA. The fans signalled with cheers and applause that they were pleased to witness Ledecky punching her ticket for her fourth consecutive Olympic Games.

Image Source: Sarah Stier/Getty Images

'All great racers come to Indy' is a slogan familiar to many athletes and their coaches.  Approximately 949 of the nation's best swimmers arrived in Indiana's capital to compete at the Lucas Oil Stadium in the NFL stadium home to the Indianapolis Colts.  Shackell trains under Chris Plumb, the Carmel Swim Club head coach. 14 Carmel swimmers make a 30-minute daily commute to this unique but temporary Olympic pool from their suburb Carmel. The Indianapolis suburb temporarily renamed itself "SwimCity USA" during the trials.

Aaron Shackell's training partners and mentors, also based in Carmel, include Jake Mitchell and Drew Kibler. Both qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic team that competed in Tokyo at the Covid-delayed Olympic Games held three summers ago. The pair were the first-ever Olympians from the Carmel Swim Club. Over the nine-day U.S. Olympic trials, Kibler finished third in the 200m freestyle and was selected to his second Olympic squad as a 4x200m freestyle relay member.  Mitchell struggled, finishing 7th in the 200m and 8th in the 400m freestyle events and was not picked for the U.S. team bound for France.

Shackell, the rookie Olympian, said, "I think what makes me so passionate is always striving to improve and always having fun. I also think being in a bunch of different sports as a kid was really important for me to avoid getting burnt out by swimming. Swimming is a tough sport, and it's a rigorous schedule, and you can't really burn yourself out when you're young. I enjoyed playing a bunch of different sports. Then, eventually, when I got older, I thought that just seeing my teammates, Jake and Drew, make the Olympics in 2021 really motivated me."

Image Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Breaking down his 400 freestyle race, Shackell offered this analysis: "In the last 50, everything in my body kind of turned off; I couldn't really hear anything. I don't know; I think I was in the zone and saw I had the lead. I know the training I do, so if I have the lead with 50 meters left, I won't lose. I'm not going to let myself lose."

Aaron Shackell wasn't the first in his family to be named to an Olympic swim team. "I've just always been around swimming." said the newly minted Olympian who started swimming at age 5. His younger sister and brother were among the Carmel swimmers at these trials. "I'm from a swimming family. My dad was an Olympian for Great Britain." 

His father, Nick, swam for Great Britain at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and was on hand as a relay-only swimmer at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The Olympic backstory of the Shackell family begins in 1993 when Nick arrived in Los Angeles.  The young man from Surrey, England, had enjoyed swimming success as a primary school and club swimmer and was recruited to compete for the UCLA men's swim team. He swam for the Bruins during his first year, only to receive the crushing news in 1994 that the men's swimming programs were being cut. Shackell and two upper-class UCLA teammates transferred to Auburn University to swim under David Marsh.  Marsh was a five-time All-American backstroker at Auburn during the '80s and took over the Auburn program as head coach in 1990. 

"In 1996, we should have won (Auburn's first) NCAA Championship, but we committed fully to the Olympics, and three weeks before the NCAAs, we were shaved and prepared at the Olympic Trials. That wasn't how all the college programs went about business," Marsh said. Twenty years later, Marsh was selected as the U.S. Olympic women's head coach for the 2016 Olympics.

Image Source: Nick Shackell takes a breath during the Janet Evan's Invitational in Los Angeles, California in 2000 (Donald Miralle /Allsport)

While training at Auburn, Nick Shackell qualified in the 100m freestyle to be a member of the team from Great Britain that would compete at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.  Shackell swam a 51.03 in the heat that Aleksandr Popov of Russia won in 48.74. Popov, the world record holder in this event, advanced to the finals and won the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta. Shackell's time would rank him 28th of the 60 competitors. The British team would finish 8th in the 4x100m freestyle relay with Shackell splitting the leadoff leg in 50.44. Unfortunately, the British 4x100m medley relay team was disqualified from the Olympics. He would be named to the 2020 Olympic team in Sydney, but the British relay team failed to advance to the finals, and as a relay-only swimmer, he didn't get to race.

For the men's swim team at Auburn, a third-place finish in the 1995 NCAA Championships and a second-place finish in 1996 laid the foundation and made the Tigers hungry to capture their first NCAA title. According to Marsh, "Nick was the guy that kept the accountability at its highest level within the team. Nick was not going to lose this championship."  Shackell anchored the winning 200-yard and 400-yard freestyle relays at the 1997 championships.

Auburn scored 496.50 points to run away with the 1997 championship title, a wide margin ahead of the 340 points scored by Stanford. The Tigers won their first of eight NCAA Swimming and Diving championships, which Auburn would win under Marsh. "Nick was the cornerstone of the team and the captain of the 1997 squad." echoed Marsh.

Shackell was an All-American in the 50-100-200 yard freestyle and 200-400-800 free relay events. He met his future wife, Ali Hansen, on the Auburn pool deck. Hansen was a three-time All-American swimmer as a member of the women's team. She specialized in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle events and the 200-yard butterfly. They married in 1999, and this year marks a significant milestone for the couple.

Image Source: Nick Shackell at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Allsport)

"My fondest and best swimming memories are from college swimming. I had the best results as a college swimmer compared to the international arena. I was always a team first swimmer and a relay first swimmer, not an individual swimmer." said Shackell. "The impact David Marsh had on my life beyond swimming has been immeasurable. I think he gave us a perfect foundation to live our lives and then to pass some of those same messages on to our children. Auburn had a major impact on my outlook in life."

"After Auburn, we spent a year in Scotland where I trained as part of the National Team," said Shackell.  "That didn't work out for me as it was slightly more distance-oriented than I like. I returned to California to train under coach David Salo in Irvine. Although I was training with future Olympic gold medalists Jason Lezak and Aaron Peirsol, I was (aware this was) my swan song."

"Ali and I moved to Tennessee and lived there for 11 years. Then, we moved again to St. Louis, where I worked for Enterprise Mobility," chronicled Shackell. "Our three kids were getting good at swimming, and during the pandemic, everyone was working remotely, so I asked my boss what he thought about me relocating our family to Indiana to allow our kids to pursue their dreams. He told me to put our house on the market, and we have been in Carmel for the past three years.  David Marsh recommended the Carmel Swim Club to us and endorsed it by others.  We liked the fit between the high school and the swim club. It seemed like a life that our three kids would enjoy and a great place to swim." 

"I cook a lot of food and do a lot of laundry," said Ali, the distanced-based swimmer of the family. "We trusted the advice from David Marsh, who told us to keep the kids in multiple sports, keep them asking for more, and not to allow them to swim doubles until they are 14 years old." She added, "We didn't buy them tech suits until they qualified for junior nationals."  

Nick explained their children's career paths: "Our daughter Alex is two years younger than Aaron and followed Aaron to the pool from a young age, and she did a lot more swimming at a younger age. Aaron spent a lot of time playing basketball, tennis, and other sports and only took swimming seriously about 4 or 5 years ago." Aaron and Alex were both members of the USA Junior Pan Pacific Championship team that competed in Hawaii in August 2022. 

Image Source: Alex Shackell USA) and Ariarne Titmus (AUS) compete in the Women's 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Final at the World Aquatics Championships - Fukuoka 2023 (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Alex's initiation into international swimming was first and furious. Just last summer, a 16-year-old Alex anchored the USA's 4x200m freestyle relay, splitting 1:56.38 for a second-place finish. She raced far behind Australia’s Ariarne Titmus at the 2023 World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, where she met the world's best swimmers in battle.

Alex was the first of the siblings to race in the temporary pool at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 100m butterfly. Her June 15th preliminaries were followed by Aaron swimming in the heats of the 400m freestyle. That evening, the semifinals of Alex's event were swum immediately before the men's 400 free finals. "I warmed down, and I'm about to get drug tested," Alex said before running to watch the finals. "I have to go watch my brother. He's about to swim. Watching Aaron was more stressful than my own swimming," Alex was the first familiar face to greet Aaron after his NBC interview. It was a memorable and emotional moment for the two siblings and longtime training partners.

Image Source: Alex Shackell of the United States competes in the Women's 200m butterfly final at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials (Al Bello/Getty Images)

According to his father, "Aaron didn't start swimming morning practices until we moved to Carmel about three years ago. About two years ago, he started to have a rapid improvement rate. We thought he could be pretty good at this if he wanted to be," 

Aaron qualified for the 2021 Olympic trials three years ago, about ten days before the entry deadline. He swam in Wave I, the slower of the two events that comprised the U.S. Olympic trials. In the three years "Since he has been at Carmel, Aaron has enjoyed training with Jake and Drew. Their impact on him has been enormous. They showed Aaron what he has to do to swim at that level and gave him confidence to realize that he might be able to do this one day." added Nick.

"We know it was Aaron's dream" shared Ali. "We didn't have any expectations (about Aaron) because everyone was talking about Alex's success, but Aaron was on a mission this year. He wanted to show some people what he was capable of. He just put the work in."

"So when you look at our kids, they got a little of each of us," said Nick. "But the coaches at Carmel are in charge of the kids' training.  Chris Plumb, Carmel's head coach, teaches them to be brave. They do stuff in practice that gives them the confidence to swim faster at meets."

"Our job is just to be there and support them and make sure they're given every opportunity they can to perform if they need it," he said. "It's definitely more stressful watching our kids. Because you have no control. You want the very best for them, and you hope that they perform at a level that's going to make them happy," Nick said. 

According to Aaron, "I think Alex was the first one to give me confidence that I could be an Olympic swimmer, a decent swimmer. She was always better than me when we were younger, which gave me the confidence that my family has good swimming genes and that I could be good myself. Then, seeing her, she was the first to hug me after I descended the stairs. I feel like she was more excited that I made the team than with her own swim. When she saw me, she told me I was an Olympian, which was probably one of the best moments of my life."

On the fifth day of the U.S. Olympic trials in Indianapolis, Alex finished second to Regan Smith in the women's 200m butterfly. In the semifinals, Alex swam a new personal best time of 2:06.10, breaking Smith's U.S. 17-18 girls national age group record set in 2020. Her 6th place finish in the 200m freestyle qualified her for the 4x200m freestyle relay. Alex already has world championship experience, squaring off against Australia's Ariarne Titmus in Fukuoka during the summer of 2023.

Image Source: Regan Smith and Alex Shackell celebrate during Women's 200m butterfly medal ceremony at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Aaron will not be the only member of the Shackell family to compete for Olympic medals in Paris this summer. His sister and Carmel teammate is also an Olympian. "To go with my brother to Paris is amazing," said Alex. "The trials can be stressful, and you just want to perform at your best. I don't usually let pressure get to me. I have fun in the ready room, especially with Regan Smith. We are enjoying the process. I learned a lot at last year's world championships, especially racing against the Australian women. I can't control the outcome, but I can control how I swim and prepare for my races. When it comes to the race, it will take care of itself, and I will be enjoying it. 

Alex explained the Carmel dividends, "During the trials, I have been staying at home, enjoying homemade meals and sleeping in my bed. I can't say enough things about Carmel Swim Club, my coach, Chris Plumb and my teammates.  We work so hard at ten practices a week. Every single practice is going to be hard, and we know it's going to be hard. Everything we do at practices is a thousand times harder than at a swim meet. This is the fun part, and I am enjoying the meets."

Alex has indicated her intentions to swim at the University of California (Cal) when she heads off to college in 2025. Dave Durden serves as the head coach, and David Marsh is the assistant coach. Nick and Ali Shackell swam for both of these coaches and are confident that their daughter will be in great hands.

In the fall of 2023, Aaron swam one semester at Cal but made a difficult decision to return to Carmel and train with his former swim club and coach, Plumb. "Aaron's improvement trend at Carmel has been ridiculous, and he trusts Chris." according to his father. "For Aaron to make the Olympic team in the 400 freestyle like Jake had done three years ago just speaks to Chris's ability to coach. We have a ton of belief in Chris. The work he has done with our kids in the pool is amazing; the work he has done with the kids inside and outside of swimming is impressive.

"Aaron will swim at the University of Texas under coach Bob Bowman." confirmed his father.  "Aaron wanted something similar to the training he has been doing at Carmel.  He feels very confident with the type of work he will do at Texas," said Nick.

In addition to Aaron and Alex, the couple have a second son, Andrew. Andrew and Alex are 17-year-old twins. Like their mother, all three siblings share a first name that begins with the letter "A". All three competed at the U.S. trials, the only family to claim that distinction.

"Our youngest son Andrew, Alex's twin, also swam at the U.S. trials, but his story is unique", shared his mother. "In St. Louis, he was very good at running but hated swimming. He once broke his goggles, ripped his suit, and played video games for almost three years, refusing to swim. We didn't give Andrew the option when we moved to Carmel. We told him this was where the car was going! He started swimming in the slowest group and just continued to move up.  It took about a year of swimming, but now he's obsessed with the sport and set his goals for the next trials.  Andrew hopes his performances in Indianapolis might earn him a spot on the Junior Pan Pac team, and he's already said his goal is four years from now. 

"Andrew's definitely a great supporter and pushes me in practice all the time," Aaron said. "He's always trying to get better, and that helps me to try and get better, as well. He's made great improvements, and I do not doubt he'll be in a great position in four years."

Image Source: Aaron Shackell at the Men's 400m freestyle medal ceremony at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Swimming at the Paris Olympic Games begins on July 27th, and it will surely be a challenge that the Shackell family is prepared for. Also heading to Paris as one of the USA's assistant coaches is Chris Plumb, the head coach of the Carmel Swim Club. Like Alex, he got his feet wet on the international stage as an assistant coach on last summer's World Championships team in Fukuoka.  Plumb is keenly aware of the talented team from Australia that will be vying for the same Olympic medals that his Carmel swimmers are aiming for.

Looking beyond Paris, an even bigger and grander Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games venue will be constructed at SoFi Stadium. The Shackell family dynasty may include three members of the U.S. Olympic team.