Jan. 21, 2000
by Alan Wasielewski
The list of accomplishments is staggering.
Five-time All-American, four-time BIG EAST champion, College Swimming Coaches Association Academic All-Star and holder of two Notre Dame and three BIG EAST records – those are just the highlights of the list senior breaststroker Shannon Suddarth has compiled in her time at Notre Dame. The list is still growing as the 1999-2000 swimming season is only partially complete, and there are a few goals still within reach.
Suddarth is aiming for a milestone in Notre Dame swimming history. She could be the first Irish swimmer to earn All-America citations all four years in the program.
“If being a four-time All-American happens, that will be God’s will which would be awesome,” Suddarth said. “One thing I have learned this season is to give it all up to God and let him do what he feels is right. That is the only reason I swim, because I believe that is where God wants me.”
The pool is definitely where Suddarth belongs. Swimming the 100- and 200-meter breaststoke events, as well as the breaststroke leg of the medley relay team, Suddarth and her teammates have an opportunity to win four consecutive BIG EAST championships. That is a feat no other athletic team at Notre Dame has accomplished since joining the conference in 1995.
“I have no doubt that we have the ability to do that,” Suddarth said. “Our senior class has done really well in the conference every season. It is really great to know we have the opportunity to do that (win four consecutive BIG EAST titles), and we can make our mark. We haven’t made our mark nationally as we would have liked, but hopefully that will happen this year.”
Suddarth has swam in all three NCAA championships since she stepped on campus for the 1996-97 season. She finished eighth and 11th in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke at the 1998 NCAAs to earn All-America honors. That concluded a dominating season where she finished no lower than third in all 200-meter events she participated in, set the Notre Dame 200 breaststroke record at the NCAA meet and won the 1998 Notre Dame Most Improved Swimmer Award.
Just a quick glance at the Notre Dame all-time 100- and 200- meter breaststroke times will show the impact Suddarth has left on the program. She owns nine of the top 10 200 breaststroke times in school history, along with five of the top 10 in the 100. Suddarth gives credit to the hard work it takes to succeed in collegiate swimming.
“It is extremely difficult to keep focused on all aspects of your life during the season,” Suddarth said. “There are times when it feels like your day is eat, sleep, swim and study. The reward comes from within. You have to give up other portions of your life joyfully.”
The Notre Dame program has made gigantic strides since Suddarth and her fellow classmates entered the program four years ago. Alison Newell, Elizabeth Barger, Gina Ketelhohn, Laura Shepard, and Rhiana Saunders are just some of the seniors that have dominated the BIG EAST over the last four years. Suddarth credits the people around her for making the program what it is today.
“The first year I got here it was really intense,” Suddarth said. “Every morning, every night, my schedule was the class, pool, weights, and homework. For any sport you have to be a 24-hour athlete. The team and its chemistry has changed and everyone has become a lot more focused. We have some really great people, and I think that is from Coach (Bailey) Weathers recruiting both the person and the performance.”
In what little free time Suddarth has, she has the ability to make the most of it. She participates in any life skills event that time permits and also pursues one of her loves in life – singing. Attend a Notre Dame athletic event and you might have the opportunity to hear her perform the national anthem.
“I really love singing,” Suddarth said. “I used to have more opportunities in high school, but in college, swimming and school demanded a little more of my free time. It is nice to be able to go out to a game, sing the anthem, and let all that energy out. I think I drive my roommates crazy singing around them all the time.”
You will not find her making a mistake during the national anthem, either.
“I always write the words out on my palm,” Suddarth explained. “So many people have the tendency to make a mistake and someone suggested I do that the first time I went out there to sing. I never really use it, it just helps my confidence to know it is there.”
A marketing major from Topeka, Kan., Suddarth knows exactly what she is going to do after graduation. She is engaged to former Irish gridiron standout and Chicago Bears rookie offensive lineman Jerry Wisne. Knowing that the future is secure will help Suddarth deal with her first year without swimming in competitions.
“It would be harder if I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Suddarth said. “I will miss the team, I will miss being an athlete. Jerry and I believe in the ‘traditional’ home and I am not going to work right away. We are going to start with a clean slate and go from there. If I want to include bible study or volunteering I will have the chance to do that. We just want to go in with a commitment to our marriage, both of us supporting each other.”
The final year at Notre Dame is winding down and Suddarth is determined to make the most of her last season in the pool for the Irish.
“Its going well this season. It was hard at first since I have been swimming for four years and I know this is the end. It is a bit exciting that it is my last year. I’ve been doing it for so long and I want to go out giving my best every race.”
Suddarth has been giving her best throughout her four years at Notre Dame and has provided a lasting impression of excellence on the Irish swimming program. Four time All-American and BIG EAST Champion? There is enough room left on her list for those accomplishment as well.