Frustration nearly brought an end to Evan McInerny’s swimming career.
He grew accustomed to success at an early age, rising to a state championship level and making a zone team, but he didn’t grow taller in the ensuing years. His competitors did, and he struggled with watching others race past him. Beginning in eighth grade and through early in his freshman year at Peachtree Ridge, he thought seriously about giving up the sport.
An Olympic-sized boost helped change his mind.
“After (the early success), I started to go downhill,” said McInerny, now a senior at Peachtree Ridge and an Auburn recruit. “Everyone started growing and I never really grew. There was a point when I thought about quitting. I had never even met Senior (SwimAtlanta coach Chris Davis) before, and he called me into his office and talked to me and told me I should keep going. He actually gave me (SwimAtlanta alum and two-time Olympian) Eric Shanteau’s number and he called me. ... (Shanteau) just told me he was really good around 10 or 11 and all his friends got way bigger than him and he never grew. He just said he stuck with it, that ‘You’ve done so much work, there’s no point in stopping now. Look where I’ve gotten.’ He said, ‘You can call me whenever you need.’ It was just good to have a bunch of people that supported me and told me I could do it.”
Davis, the SwimAtlanta founder who coaches its highest level swimmers, and others at the club were among those who believed in McInerny and his potential. He remembered the swimming journey of Shanteau, one of his former swimmers, and enlisted the Olympic gold medalist’s help.
“(McInerny) was very much like Eric Shanteau,” David said. “He was a stud at 9 and 10, 11 and 12, and when everybody started growing and he didn’t, the world went by him. He actually got kind of really bummed out about it and was talking about quitting. (My sons and SwimAtlanta coaches) Chris and Scot said (McInerny) is going to quit and I said ‘Nah, he’s going to be too good.’ I had a meeting with him and told him about Eric and how he went through the same thing. I even got Eric to call him.”
McInerny stuck with swimming, and he eventually hit his own growth spurt, sparking improvements since his sophomore year of high school. He credits a more positive mindset, as much as his height, for his success.
Davis thinks McInerny has a good shot at qualifying for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials, and is excited to see what the Peachtree Ridge standout can accomplish at the college level. Recruiters liked the upside of McInerny because of his late development.
“I really feel like I have a lot more I can give for Auburn, which is exciting,” said McInerny, whose sister Haley was the 2015 Daily Post Swimmer of the Year and swam for Kentucky. “I think I’ve got potential since I just started getting big into my underwaters and things like that. The past two years I’ve been going between being a breaststroker and a flyer, and I think my fly is really starting to take off now rather than my breaststroke. I think it’s good that I have something I can focus on more. I was training both and they were both solid, but they weren’t at the next level.
“But at juniors by 2 (200) fly was really good and I got third, so I feel like I’m going to start doing more fly. Obviously, it’s helping my IM a lot having both of those strokes that are really good.”
The success with SwimAtlanta has been matched at the high school level, where McInerny stood out as a junior at both the county meet (champion in 200 individual medley, fourth in 100 butterfly) and at state (runner-up in 100 fly, third in 200 IM). He was even better at last weekend’s county meet, winning the 100-yard breaststroke in 57.19 seconds and taking second in the 200 IM. His 200 IM time of 1:49.81 was almost seven seconds ahead of third place and trailed only the county-meet record clocking of 1:47.07 by Mill Creek’s Jake Magahey.
“Not only is Evan a student-athlete of mine, he is also the supervisor of the Ridge Prints program at the school,” Peachtree Ridge coach Jeremy Laird said. “Ridge Prints is our in-house print production, student-run enterprise and Evan does an amazing job. He is very reliable, dependable and one of the best student-athletes I have ever encountered in my 20 years of coaching. His passion for swim is very evident and I can’t wait to see what he does at Auburn, even though I’m a UGA grad. He is a rare athlete that can and will swim any event and qualify at the state level in all those events.
“At the Ridge, we have a challenge called the King of the Jungle, which is swimming all individual events and qualifying to state in those, and Evan has successfully accomplished that challenge the past two years. This is a testament to his skill and talent that does not go unnoticed. He is well respected by his classmates and fellow athletes and will sorely be missed next season and seasons to follow.”
McInerny said he is pleased with his high school career, regardless of how next week’s state meet plays out. But he still has high goals for his final Peachtree Ridge meet — like state titles in the 200 IM and 100 fly and top finishes with his two relays.
Where he stands now is more satisfying because he emerged on the other side of his past frustrations.
“I’m really happy about it,” McInerny said. “I’m going to a school like Auburn that feels like home and I’m excited to be there. It was great to have all the people supporting me, my family, my friends, my coaches. They were very supportive along the road. I’m really happy I didn’t end up quitting.”