Going for gold: Carmel swimmers, coach ready to represent Team USA at Paris Olympics


Carmel siblings Aaron and Alex Shackell, both first-time Olympians, are eager to represent Team USA in swimming events this summer in Paris, France.

But their roads to the “Super Bowl of swimming,” according to their coach, Chris Plumb, followed different paths. Plumb, who has been named an assistant coach for the U.S. team at this summer’s Olympics, began coaching the Shackells through the Carmel Swim Club after they relocated from California.

“Alex came in, and she was the young superstar, a quality top-level 12- and 13-year-old,” Plumb said. “Aaron had a little different path. He played a lot of sports. I remember telling Aaron when he moved here, ‘Dude, you’ve got to go faster if you want to make our high school team.’ But to have them converge, to make the Olympic team, from when they moved here, it’s just crazy to think about.”

Aaron Shackell, 19, – a 2023 Carmel High School graduate who did make the school swim team – earned a spot on the U.S. roster by finishing first in the 400-meter freestyle in the Olympic Swimming Trials June 16 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Alex Shackell, 17, an incoming senior at CHS, secured her spot June 20 by finishing second in the 200-meter butterfly.

For Alex Shackell, making the Olympic team was a lifelong dream. Plumb said it didn’t take him long to realize it was one she had the potential to fulfill.   

“When she was 14 or 15, she would draw on her hand Olympic rings. I was like, ‘Girl, you are either getting set up for an awesome moment or incredible disappointment being that driven,’ but when you see somebody who is that way, you’re like, ‘I want to do everything I can to empower you to have that moment,’” Plumb said.

Alex Shackell said she knew achieving her goal wouldn’t be easy, but she was willing to put in the work.

“You have to go to practice. You have to eat right. You have to go to bed on time. Every single day, it’s a lot, but the sacrifices to have that moment of glory is so worth it,” she said, adding that she didn’t miss a single practice this year, including when she had migraines.

Aaron Shackell grew up more interested in basketball and other sports than swimming. Plumb said his journey to the Olympics has been “a little bit slower” than his sister’s, but the coach realized “there’s something special there” in 2021 when he made it to the Olympic trials and followed it up the following year by winning gold in the 200-meter butterfly at the 2022 Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

“Those two moments for him, I was like, ‘He is something special. He wants it,’” Plumb said. “Those moments, to me, let me know that he definitely has the potential, but until you do it, you don’t ever really know.”

Now, some of the best swimmers of all time are recognizing Aaron Shackell’s potential.

“It was really cool to see Michael Phelps post me on his Instagram story,” Aaron Shackell said. “Me and Katie Ledecky both won the 400 (freestyle at the Olympic Trials), and we were underneath the pool, and she said she kind of knew I was going to eventually do something cool like that. That was a cool moment.”

In addition to the Shackell siblings, Carmel native Drew Kibler, a 2018 CHS graduate, made the Olympic team by finishing third in the 200-meter freestyle to secure a spot on the 200-meter relay team. Kibler, who did not respond to a request for comment as of press time, swam in the same event in the 2021 Olympics, finishing in fourth place.

Although the CHS girls swim team has won 38 consecutive IHSAA state titles, a record for any sport, Alex Shackell is the first athlete in the program to make the Olympics. It’s an honor she doesn’t take lightly.

“I made that a goal of mine to hopefully be the first,” she said. “I hope it sets up other athletes to come behind me and be the next ones.”

Plumb has coached all three of Carmel’s 2024 Olympians through the Carmel Swim Club and at CHS and is eager to continue working with them at the Paris Olympics.

“It’s what you live for, and it’s what you coach for,” Plumb said. “It’s something you dream about.”

Both Shackells, whose father swam in the 1996 Olympics for Great Britain, said they are thrilled to have their coach join them in Paris.

“Having Chris going is a huge advantage for us,” Aaron Shackell said. “We know we’re going to stay on the same plan, and no one is going to try and alter that. Having him go definitely helps a lot.”

His sister agreed.

“Every international meet I’ve been to, he’s always been with me, so I can’t really see it any other way,” Alex Shackell said. “We’re really lucky that he can come with us.”

In addition, the siblings look forward to facing the biggest challenge of their swimming careers alongside each other.

“We’ve done everything together, and I’m not surprised we’re doing this together for the first time,” Aaron Shackell said.

Alex Shackell said making the U.S. team with her older brother “just feels right.”

“I couldn’t see it any other way,” she said. “I can’t imagine myself or both of us not going to the games together.”

City celebrates Olympians

The City of Carmel is celebrating its Olympic swimmers by temporarily renaming streets in the Midtown area after them.

Monon Boulevard, Elm Street, First Street and Second Street will be renamed Chris Plumb Boulevard, Aaron Shackell Street, Alex Shackell Street and Drew Kibler Street until the conclusion of the Olympic games, which run July 26 to Aug. 11 in Paris.

Carmel Mayor Sue Finkam presented the Shackells and Plumb with street signs displaying their names at a June 28 event in Midtown Plaza. Kibler was unable to attend.

Last month, the city unveiled temporary signs designating Carmel as SwimCity USA. Carmel sent 14 swimmers to the U.S. Olympic Trials in June at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. SwimCity, USA T-shirts are available for sale at All Things Carmel, 110 W. Main St.

Olympic events featuring Carmel athletes are set to be shown on the Midtown Plaza screen. SunKing, which is adjacent to Midtown Plaza, is releasing commemorative SwimCity, USA pint glasses.