COLUMBIA — What do a Hardee's Monster Thickburger and members of the Hickman and Rock Bridge High School swim teams have in common?
They're both things that slow down Michael Sheahen in practice.
Sheahen, the defending state champion in the 500-yard freestyle, ate lunch at Hardee's last Friday. It was a decision he regretted a few hours later at swim practice.
"The after-effects really got to me," he said. "As I was eating it, I could feel my arteries hardening. At practice, I could feel it turning into jelly in my stomach. I'm going to wait a couple of months before I try again."
The 1420-calorie meal, just a blip in his 7,000-plus calorie-a-day diet, was too much for him. Sheahen fell back to going last in his lane, the swimming equivalent of a starting quarterback taking snaps with the second-string team.
And then there are the days when Sheahen lets one of his teammates lead their lane, even if they may not be as fast as him.
"I don't need to lead all the time," he said. "Coleman and Grant can whup me on backstroke sets and IM (all four stroke in one swim) sets."
Coleman Hodges, a junior at Rock Bridge, doesn't find it odd that he will lead a lane with Sheahen.
"We do switch it around between me, Michael and Grant (Hunter)," he said of the three lane-mates during practice at Hickman. "If one of us is feeling fast, he's going to lead."
Sheahan, a senior, led Hickman in last year's state championship meet. He won the 500-yard freestyle in 4 minutes, 37.53 seconds, about 3.5 seconds ahead of his closest competitor in a sport measured to the hundredth of a second.
He also finished fourth in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:42.75. Both times are Hickman High School team records.
Hickman coach John Hamilton, however, would like to see Sheahen take more initiative. He has spoken with his swimmer about going first.
"That's not to say he never leads," Hamilton said. "He'll do so on main sets. When it's VO2 max (sprint sets), he'll take his turn."
Hamilton has also spoken to Sheahen about his swimming technique.
"The main thing he's helped me with keeping my head steady," Sheahen said. "I'm not swinging it any more. I think it helped me a lot in winning state last year."
"It's hard for people who have swam for a long time," Hamilton said. "They'll fall back to it (their bad habits). That's because it's ingrained in his muscle memory.
With graduation next semester, Sheahen must make a few decisions about what to do after that.
"It all depends on which branch of the military I want to be in," he said. "I'm kind of an idealist about the military. I feel like it's something I should do."
If West Point or Annapolis, the schools dedicated to the Army and Navy, respectively, fall through, Sheahan said he was interested in swimming for MU, where his sister Mary Sheahen swims.
"I've talked at length about what the next level holds for him," Hamilton said. "Being a hometown boy, I'm thinking the coaches know him and know of him."
But for now Michael Sheahen focuses on what it will take to repeat in the 500 and win the 200.
"It's going to take a good attitude about the race to repeat as state champ," he said. "There are going to be a lot guys coming after me."