Feb. 26, 2016

By Jen Prosser ’18

Senior swimmer Shane McKenzie reflects on his time at ND and explains his likeness to Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling.

How did you get started with swimming?

“I started swimming at the age of five with a summer club. Both my parents swam so they got me and my sister and brother in the pool. We also played a bunch of other sports, but as we realized we were better at swimming we focused on that year round.”

When did you realize swimming was something you wanted to pursue?

“I played soccer and lacrosse up until high school, but then I wanted to devote as much time as I could to swimming. I think that was definitely the right decision because I don’t think I would be playing soccer or lacrosse here at Notre Dame. I was in high school when I decided that I wanted to see where I could take the sport.”

What’s your favorite race?

“My best race is the 400 IM. I don’t like doing it all throughout the year, but in terms of the end of the season, when we taper and shave, the 4IM is still my favorite race. I’m more of a distance swimmer.”

Do you have any siblings?

“I’m the middle child. My older sister swam collegiately at Emory and my brother is a freshman at MIT right now, he is also a swimmer. My sister definitely set the stage going to Emory. She’s two years older than me, so when she was going through the recruiting process I was a freshman and realized maybe I could do the same thing. I wasn’t too competitive with my sister, definitely much more so with my brother. All the time around the house, whether it was making up games in the basement or playing video games, when we played soccer or lacrosse out in the backyard, it was always very competitive.”

Is there a defining moment in your swimming career?

“Being a part of the BIG EAST championship team when I was a freshman was definitely pretty special. I realized then why I wanted to be here and why I wanted to come to Notre Dame. The companionship, being part of that winning team was very special and motivated me to continue on and get as much as I could from the sport of swimming at Notre Dame. You can look at swimming two ways. It can be very individualized, with regards to club swimming where you’re recruited individually. But there’s also the high school aspect where you’re part of a team that has dual meets competing against other schools. So depending how you look at it, it’s individualized or it’s part of a team. When I got to Notre Dame I realized that it wasn’t just how I did individually, but learning from others.”

What do you love most about being a part of Notre Dame Swimming?

“I think, during my freshman year, Tim Welsh set the precedent for the tradition of Notre Dame men’s swimming. So being a part of that tradition and taking advantage of all the people that I’ve met over the years is special to me. Obviously, I spend a lot of time with them just based off our practice schedules during the week, but getting to know people outside of the pool is great. In the last four years, I’ve developed the closest relationships I’ve ever had with people at this school. It’s definitely going to be bittersweet when I have to graduate in May. I’m always going to remember this place. I think you don’t really realize how much this school can mean to you until you’ve spent a couple of years and have been through a decent amount of stuff. Then you can say that you’re going to miss this place. I never thought I’d come to that point but I do love this place and that’s why it’s going to be very bittersweet.

How do you feel about swimming in your first ACC Championship?

“I kind of got stuck going through the motions my sophomore and junior year. I’d try at practice but mentally I was mostly focused on academics. I’m a chemical engineer so it was pretty hard at first balancing that. This summer I set the goal of ending on the highest note that I could and take advantage of one more year of swimming at Notre Dame. I made a very diligent effort this summer at getting in the water as much as I could. I spent the first half of my summer in Austin, Texas, and made sure to practice down there. I practiced at the University of Texas which is a great pool with a very storied tradition – they win the National Championship pretty frequently. Swimming at that facility motivated me a lot so when I got back to New Jersey for the rest of the summer I kept on training the way I had in Austin, keeping in mind that I wanted to make the ACC team this year. I’m pretty happy that I made the team, obviously, but I want to make sure that I can end on as strong of a note as possible.”

What’s been different about your senior season?

“I’m very close with the other seniors. As a class we’ve been through a lot, technically we’ve been through three different head coaching changes. What’s special about this group, this team, is that I’ve never seen everyone so dedicated and so concerned with how we all do as a whole. I think we can say that all of us on the team have made this place, this team, and this culture better. We all have a common goal. It’s not just going to be about me [this] week at the ACC meet, but being with the team one more time in that environment. There’s a cliché saying that my high school coach used to always say, ‘step back and smell the roses.’ This past month or so coming back from Christmas break and the dual meets that we’ve had in January, I’ve definitely done that a lot. I’ve taken time to process everything and reflect on how much I’ve dedicated to this sport and, as cliché as it is, leave everything in the pool. I just want to be happy with the outcome and make sure that I’m excited and happy overall, as I have been, that’s why it’s going to be a great meet. It’ll be great having my sister and parents there too.”

As a second semester senior, what are you doing outside of the pool?

“I’m only in three classes right now, but all engineering so I’m not really on cruise control. I’ve been pretty dedicated to swimming and getting rest for the past month and a half, but I am looking forward to the free time I’ll have once ACCs are over. My roommates and I will play interhall lacrosse, so I’ll be busy with that. I’ll be sure to get on a pretty good bookstore basketball team as well. Just enjoy the last month and a half of senior year, not just with the team but with other people I’ve met over my last four years as well.”

Do the swimmers have a Bookstore Basketball team?

“We always have a team going with the swimmers and we take it pretty seriously. People think ‘Oh it’s the swimmers, this should be easy,’ but we have some pretty athletic people on our team. Last year the team I was on made it to the round of 64, which was pretty cool. I played one year of basketball growing up so having referees and real rules was pretty cool.”

What are you hoping to do after graduation?

“I’m doing a two and a half year leadership development program for Johnson & Johnson in Jacksonville, Fla. I’ll be starting in June so I’ll have a month to travel. I’ve never been to Europe so I’m going to try to go there. I’m rather disappointed that I don’t get to beach lifeguard again on the Jersey Shore, because that’s what I’ve done the past three summers and all my extended family lives there. But being in Florida I’ll have the beach pretty close to me. I know Navy is playing Notre Dame in Jacksonville in November, so I know there’s at least one football game I’ll get to go to. I’m counting down the days for that and hopefully I can come back for a game in the fall as well.”

What’s your favorite place to travel?

“Given our swimming commitments my family never traveled that much when I was growing up, but we have a house on the Jersey Shore which is how I’ve gotten into beach lifeguarding. My grandparents bought a house down there in the early 90’s, and as the years have gone on, multiple sets of my aunts and uncles have all gotten houses there too, within a quarter mile of each other. Brigantine is probably my second home, or I’d say first home now that my parents are moving. It’s great being down there with my whole family.”

What’s been your favorite class/ professor here?

“There’s an introduction to bioengineering class that we have to take as chemical engineers, I’m now concentrated in biomolecular. I started chemical engineering because my dad’s a chemical engineer, but that class really opened the door to engineering for me. During my first couple of years I wanted to be a doctor, and the idea of medicine and engineering is still really intriguing to me.”

What is something most people probably don’t know about you?

“My parents and my sister lived in Ireland for just under a year when my mother was pregnant with me. My sister had a huge crush on an Irish boy named Shane so that’s why my name is Shane.”

What has changed the most since you’ve been here?

“What has changed the most is the appreciation of what other people around you are willing to do for you, what your parents are willing to sacrifice to allow you to get to a place like this, understanding people from different backgrounds. This whole experience has been great, I didn’t really learn to appreciate it until my junior year. I don’t know if that was because I was homesick all of freshman year and then my major classes kicked in sophomore year and I didn’t have time to think about those kinds of things because I was so consumed with academics and swimming.”

Did you have any connections to Notre Dame before you enrolled here?

“My only connection to Notre Dame was that my uncle went here. Coming here was initially a result of swimming, there were other people that I had swam with in high school at St. Joe’s prep that were older than me and swimming here. Notre Dame is all about tradition, I was the 14th male in my family to go to high school, so I had a little introduction to what it’s like to share something with people that you love that have gone through the same thing.”

Do you try to impart wisdom on your underclassmen?

“There aren’t a lot of engineers on the team, and there are a few freshman considering it. I don’t mind at all sharing with them my biggest regrets, my biggest mistakes, giving advice on professors to take. I did the same thing when I was a freshman, really relying on the upperclassmen to help you out when you needed it. Especially when you’re tasked with the idea that what you decide as a major will impact the rest of your life, and I learned that’s not really the case at all. I enjoy imparting my wisdom on the freshmen and anyone else I can to make their lives easier and make sure they know that they know that this place is special. This team that I’ve been on for the last four years, I’m very grateful for that.”

In a movie of your life, who would play you?

“I’ve gotten a lot of people telling me I look like Ryan Reynolds or Ryan Gosling, definitely increases my self-esteem a lot. So probably one of those two.”