Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Healed from foot injuries, Newman Smith junior will seek state diving title
CARROLLTON — Before a diving session begins and Connor Shackelford propels his body through the air and into the blue, he sits alone, contemplating. Sometimes he reads a John Grisham novel to relax. Mostly he just thinks.
This is something his coaches notice and compliment. The Carrollton Newman Smith junior has a Stoic’s focus. He can motivate himself during this time while also blocking out the distractions, of which he knows far too much about.
It was just a year ago that Shackelford shattered both of his heels in an accident that left him in a wheelchair for months and could have kept him away from the sport for much longer.
“I really didn’t think he was going to be coming back to dive,” Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD diving coach Eric Ognibene said.
If it weren’t for gymnastics, Shackelford wouldn’t be in Austin to compete in the 4A state championships Friday and Saturday. He became a gymnast early, at age 7. He competed in all of the boys events but part of him wasn’t satisfied.
It was an isolated life. You practiced and had little semblance of a team or friends with whom to share the experience.
As high school began, a gymnastics coach introduced him to diving. He already had the concept down because of his gymnast background, and unlike in gymnastics, he could become part of a team and socialize with people his age. Shackelford fit right in. As a freshman, he finished second at the district meet.
“I was like, ‘I can do this sport,’” he said.
Shackelford kept competing in gymnastics, though. Last January, he was on the high bar, practicing for an upcoming meet, when it came loose, shifting the bar to the left and sending him tumbling through the air. He was upside down when it happened but maneuvered to land on his feet, onto concrete. The 12-foot fall shattered both of his heels.
The pain was so excruciating that doctors couldn’t operate for two weeks. After a surgery, he was in a wheelchair for three months, his lower legs wrapped in casts.
About two weeks after he could walk again, and just before he could begin diving again, pain returned to his right foot. A tendon was not healing properly, and he had a staph infection. More surgeries and more time off ensued. By the time he could dive full-strength again, it was December, and Shackelford struggled when pushing off the board.
But he had to compete. There were only two meets before January’s district meet. Shackelford performed well, especially at the esteemed TISCA meet, and then he won district with a personal-best 379.5. Two weeks ago, he won the regional to qualify for state.
What amazes Ognibene is how Shackelford is doing it. Unable to get maximum lift because he can’t fully thrust off the board, Shackelford is completing his movements faster than most other divers can.
Though he walks with a limp and can’t point his toes properly, and his right leg feels shorter than his left, through the air Shackelford excels like few others.
“It wasn’t too hard to get back the dives,” he said. “I had them hard-wired into my system.”
UIL SWIMMING AND DIVING STATE MEET
Austin’s Jamail Texas Swim Center
Today: 10 a.m., 4A prelims, semis, consolations; 4:30 p.m., 5A prelims, semis, consolations.
Saturday: 9:30 a.m., 4A finals; 3:30 p.m., 5A finals
Did you know? The Southlake Carroll boys and girls have not lost a meet this year. The boys won the 5A state title last year, and the girls finished second. The Frisco girls won the 4A title last year.