By Jason Shuler
AS TOLD TO AMY WIMMER SCHWARB
ROLE: A 23-year-old freshman, Jason Shuler competes in swimming at Division III Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. He is majoring in kinesiology with a minor in exercise and sport science. HIS STORY: Before he was a student-athlete, he served four years and three tours in the U.S. Navy as a quartermaster third class, working as a search-and-rescue swimmer. LESSONS LEARNED: Shuler appreciates how swimming gives him a respect for boundaries – a philosophy that has helped him make some difficult decisions.
I was never big on playing in the water. Even as a kid, I enjoyed swimming when it was more structured. I didn’t want to feel like I was wasting my time. I wanted to go fast and be strong and confident in the water. I don’t need to frolic in the water.
Having the structure of swimming helped keep me on task. I knew if I wanted to compete, I had to keep my grades up. I didn’t want to be just a swimmer dude who was dragging the team down because I wasn’t trying in school.
I started out confident, but not anything special, coming into high school. I didn’t have a whole lot of natural talent. My high school coach, Mike Burt – he coached the University of Oklahoma for years and is one of my greatest mentors – he saw something in me early on. He saw raw, very unrefined potential. He cultured it and turned it into a driving force.
even his criticism was always positive. He’d say, “We’ll come back, and we’ll do better.” He pushed me. He worked with me. He motivated me. He worked on my technique, and I left my senior year with my name on a number of high school records.
I didn’t want to quit competing after high school, but I couldn’t afford college. So, I joined the military to pay for college. I figured I was done competing.
Once I was old enough to understand what it meant to be a soldier, I respected the idea that the military was a career you could be proud of.
I enlisted in February 2010. When I joined the Navy, I didn’t think about doing anything with swimming. But then I heard, “Well, we have all these jobs that could really use your background.” The recruiter asked me if I would consider doing special forces. I went to Navy SEAL training.
That training – it lets you know your boundaries are not where you think they are. You can handle so much more than you realize. The problems and stressors you have had in your life up to that point really are quite minimal.
I made it through the first weed-out. Then, I found out my mom had gotten sick. I knew what I had to do. That was a real no-brainer to me. If something had happened to my mother, I would have regretted later in life that I wasn’t able to be there. I made a conscious choice to pull myself out of training. It was an easy, yet difficult choice, all at the same time.
I became a surface search-and-rescue swimmer for a ship. I still got to work out and challenge myself physically. If one of our sailors fell overboard or we had to respond to a helicopter crash or a pleasure craft that tipped over, we had our equipment ready. Of course, our motto for Navy search-and-rescue is: The best day is the day we don’t have to use it.
The closer I got to finishing my service time, I figured swimming in college was probably a viable option. Once I started talking to coach (Jon) Duncan, it became evident that it was a strong possibility that I could swim at Southwestern, and I could do well.
It’s hard to keep up with these young kids. They make me feel like an old man. For a lot of them, this is their first time being away from home and being pretty much in complete control of their actions. I’m not here to be their guardian and replace their parents, but if I see something where I feel like my experience could help, I give what little advice I can.
Swimming is a comfort zone for me. When I swim, I am in control. If I need some time to think, the pool is the place I go.