Anna Pitingolo, GoPSUsports.com Student
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State saw a record number of athletes competing at this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and, with the start of classes, now has one of those athletes back on campus.
Swimmer Shane Ryan competed for Ireland at the games in the 100-meter backstroke and 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle, and while he didn't bring home any hardware, he brought back a wealth of experience.
"Not only did I just make the Olympics, I made the semifinal at the Olympics, so top 16 in the world," said the Haverford, Pa. native. "So all I can do is take what I can from that, even though I didn't swim as well as I wanted to in the semifinal, you always can learn from a swim. No matter if it's a bad swim or a good swim, you always can take what you can and move onto the next one."
As a senior on the Penn State swim team, Ryan now has a role as leader to the younger members. With his combined time as a collegiate and Olympic swimmer, Ryan is ready to pass along his expertise.
"I can take everything I learned to many other meets here at Penn State and try to mentor the younger guys here and try to pass my knowledge on to them," Ryan said. "So I'm just here to teach people and try to make myself better, and I'm trying to make them better as well."
Head coach Tim Murphy is looking forward to Ryan's new role as a leader on the team as well. And Murphy is excited that his team was able to bond over their support of Ryan while he was in Rio.
"Anytime you have an athlete of that caliber, it just helps the common bond of the team," Murphy said. "I think Shane having become more mature and experienced, the success that he has had more aligns with the goals that he has now and the goals he has for the team. It just helps bring the team that much more together and it's going to be a great year for us."
Ryan made the decision to try and compete for Ireland towards the end of his junior year at Penn State. He comes from an Irish background and has had his Irish passport for the past six years. Ryan's dad, Tom, came over from Ireland 30 years ago and "has yet to lose his accent," while his mom, Mary Beth, is on the board for Philadelphia's St. Patrick's Day Parade.
While he was training in Ireland, there was no shortage of family for Ryan to hang out with. Tom Ryan is one of ten children and is the only one that moved to the United States, so Shane Ryan was able to visit the rest of his family every weekend.
Once in Rio, Ryan bumped into Olympic legend Michael Phelps and got to talk to him for a few minutes when Phelps mistook the logo on Ryan's hat for something else.
"Phelps came up to me and I was talking to him because I had an Irish hat on and it had kind of the same crest that the Pine Valley Club has in New Jersey," Ryan said. "I had played there once or twice so we got into talking about playing at Pine Valley. He's just a normal dude and it was really cool."
As the new semester begins in Happy Valley, Ryan is back to bumping into classmates instead of bumping into Olympians, but he is ready to get back in the classroom and earn his degree.
"I've been excited to get back to class just so I can get my degree because there is a life after swimming," Ryan said. "I'm going to take swimming as far as I can after college but there is a life after swimming and just having a Penn State degree, you can't beat that."