A Big Splash: International success inspires next generation of RGV swimmers

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BROWNSVILLE (KVEO) — The Brownsville Aquatics Center is consumed by the sounds of splashing water and Coach Ryan Shea’s commands.

Coach Shea is used to it, serving as the head coach of the Brownsville Aquatics Swim Club and the Rivera High School swim team. He has watched some of the valleys best develop through his program.

Two of them are currently on the team.

For incoming juniors David Perez and Jada Ashford, practice isn’t simply once a day.

“You’re talking two to three hours a day. Twice a day,” Coach Shea explained.

However, the practice pays off.

Ashford took the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) by storm, winning the regional meet, qualifying for state, and earning All-American status in just her freshman year of high school. Ashford continues to dominate for Los Fresnos High.

Perez took his sophomore year off due to concerns related to COVID, but he took first place in an open-water-swim competition at South Padre Island this summer. Perez will be a powerhouse for the Brownsville Veterans Memorial High School Swim Team.

The stigma, however, remains when RGV programs compete up north.

“They kind of look at us like, ‘ehh, they are underdogs,” Ashford said. “The same people I started swimming with are the same people that are still swimming.”

The pool of swimmers to choose from is still fairly slim, and the competition is some of the best in the country.

“We’ve had a couple of All-Americans come out of Brownsville,” Coach Shea said. “But we’re swimming against future Olympians when we go up [north], especially in Texas.”

One valley swimmer overcame the stigma.

McAllen alum and Texas A&M swimmer Shaine Casas has a full trophy case, shattering several high school records en route to a division-one scholarship. In 2021 alone while swimming for the Aggies, Casas earned three NCAA National Championships and was honored as the NCAA National Swimmer of the Year. Despite coming up just short of a spot in the summer games, Casas serves as an inspiration to valley swimmers.

“In recent years, I’ve been looking up to Shaine Casas,” Perez said. “He’s kind of motivated me that a valley boy can make it that far.”

His success may also have an effect on the growth of valley swimming.

“Now people are finally turning attention to [swimming],” Ashford said. “Maybe we’ll get more people in the sports.”

It begins with a splash, which causes a ripple effect affecting multiple generations to come.

“It’s just a trickle-down effect where our younger swimmers get to watch them and see the work they do in the pool,” Coach Shea said. “We’ve seen a small growth and it’s just great to be a part of.”

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