Joey Peppersack ’21 and Zach Shattuck brought some shiny new souvenirs back to Mary Washington after competing in the Parapan American Games in August.
Peppersack won a silver medal for the men’s 100-meter backstroke, while teammate Zach Shattuck, assistant coach of UMW’s men’s swimming, earned a silver and three bronze medals for the men’s 100-meter breaststroke, 50-meter butterfly, 200-meter individual medley and the men’s relay. UMW swim coach Justin Anderson ’10 served as head coach, leading Team USA to 62 swimming medals at the 2019 games in Lima, Peru. With 33 countries competing, the Parapan American Games is one of the largest events in U.S. Paralympic swimming, held every four years, one year prior to the Paralympic Games.
“It was amazing going to these games as a more experienced swimmer and being placed in a leadership role,” said Shattuck, who served as Team USA’s men’s swimming captain. He previously attended the games in Toronto when he was a student at Frostburg State University in Maryland. On this trip, Shattuck had times of 1:26.31 for the breaststroke, 33.91 for the butterfly and 2:53.66 for the individual medley. He also helped Team USA win its first Parapan American men’s relay medal in 12 years.
“I have to take pride in the silver and representing my country to the best of my ability,” said Peppersack, who also broke the American Paralympic record in the 100-yard individual medley last fall. He finished his race in Peru with a time of 1:13.53.
Born with a rare condition called tibial hemimelia, Peppersack’s right leg was amputated when he was 4 years old. Though he had to adapt to a prosthetic, Peppersack plunged into swimming and never looked back. Losing a limb didn’t stop him from winning two gold medals and a bronze at the Para World Series in Berlin in 2017 and chasing records in international competitions with the Para Swimming national team.
A 2010 alumnus, Anderson had been head coach at Frostburg – where he had actually recruited Peppersack – but jumped at a chance to return to his alma mater as head coach last year. He had worked with U.S. Paralympic team and coached several para swimmers to national qualifications and record-breaking results, so he was the perfect fit to train Peppersack.
“Coaching para swimmers, swimmers with mobility issues or any swimmer for that matter, is all about how you can get them to move through the water as efficiently and quickly as possible,” said Anderson, who was excited to see Peppersack and Shattuck “race with some of the best in the world and stand on the podium while the stars and stripes were raised above them.”
Shattuck, who accompanied Anderson to UMW as his assistant coach, was born with hypochondroplasia (short-limbed dwarfism). Shattuck began swimming in college under Anderson’s tutelage, so he understood the challenges faced by collegiate swimmers with disabilities. He befriended Peppersack at a swim meet several years before they both came to UMW.
Not wanting to rest on their laurels, both swimmers hope to earn spots on the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic team, which has been Peppersack’s dream ever since he saw Michael Phelps earn eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Now the economics major aspires to be a role model for others at Mary Washington, especially those who have mobility impairments.
“I’d like to show students that people with disabilities are capable of doing anything they set their mind to,” said Peppersack, adding that para athletes may not do things the way others do them, but that “does not mean that we can’t find our own way to do it.”