As a high school student in Villanova, Pennsylvania, Amanda Sheward was sure of two things: She wanted to go to college in Virginia, and she wanted to swim for her collegiate team.
Those goals achieved, the University of Mary Washington junior is on to her next challenge, and it’s a big one.
Sheward will represent the United States as a swimmer at the Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile, Nov. 17 – 26. Held every four years, the Parapan Games bring together elite athletes from North and South American countries for a multi-sport competition. The games are a precursor to the worldwide Paralympics taking place in Paris in summer 2024.
Sheward earned her spot on the U.S. team by excelling at the Citi Para Swimming World Series meet in Minneapolis last spring. She’s on the team of 19 women and 14 men, including former UMW assistant swimming coach Zach Shattuck, a 2020 Paralympian.
Like more than half of her fellow athletes on Team USA, Sheward will be making her first major international appearance in Santiago.
“We are very optimistic about this team and excited to see many of our younger athletes getting to represent Team USA for the first time,” said Erin Popovich, a renowned Paralympian who is now director of U.S. Paralympics Swimming.
International competition may add a bit of pressure, but Sheward has a lifetime of swimming experience to draw on.
While in utero, Sheward had a stroke on the right side of her brain, resulting in permanent weakness on her left side. Her parents started her in swimming before she could walk, and she’s been competing since age 6.
Swimming was a big part of her decision to come to Mary Washington, she said. The summer before she started high school, she went to a swim camp whose coach put her in touch with Justin Anderson ’10, head coach of UMW men’s and women’s swimming. That connection led her to switch club teams and work with a coach Anderson knew in Pennsylvania.
Sheward committed to UMW in February 2021 and came to campus as a first-year student that fall. She’s on track to graduate in 2025 with a major in communication and digital studies and a double minor in sports management and journalism.
Though the Parapan Games mean she’ll miss some UMW swimming events and academic classes, Sheward said teammates and professors have been supportive and “super excited for me.”
At UMW Sheward swims 100 free, 100 back and 500 free, but she’ll focus more narrowly at the Parapan American Games. “In Santiago I’ll be swimming the 100 back, which is my favorite,” she said.
She’ll race in the S6 Classification for the 100 back at about 7 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, said her UMW coach, Anderson.
Anderson himself has considerable experience with U.S. Paralympics Swimming including serving as head coach for Team USA at the 2019 Parapan Am Games in Lima, Peru. He couldn’t coach the Parapan team this year because of conflicts with the UMW swimming schedule – the Mary Washington men’s and women’s teams compete in the four-day F&M Invitational in Pennsylvania this weekend.
Still, Anderson is keeping tabs on Sheward’s progress in Santiago.
“Amanda is an incredibly consistent and hard-working athlete. She is also a huge contributor to our team energy at practices and meets,” Anderson said. “She gives her all in the pool every day and pushes her UMW teammates to do the same. She has made huge strides in her training and racing over her three years. … This is her first time making an international meet roster for Team USA, and it is a huge accomplishment for her and for our program.”
Sheward is already considering life after Mary Washington, hoping to work in communications, possibly sports-related, in Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia.
“As of now I’m not thinking about grad school, but maybe after a few years,” Sheward said. “I do plan to keep on swimming after college, whether that’s with Paralympics or just for fun.”