U.S. Olympic Team swimmer Tom Shields: One of United’s own is Rio bound
Beneath the glaring lights of the 17,500 seat CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska, in June, the eight American swimmers competing for a spot on Team USA in the 200-meter men's butterfly used the final moments before stepping onto their starting blocks to limber up. They shook out their triceps and stretched their wrists, each man anticipating the twice-down-and-back sprint they were about to endure.
Tom Shields, the son of United 737 Captain Tim Shields, stood behind the block in lane three, hands on his sides, pulling his elbows together in front of him to loosen his shoulders. The media likes to play up the 24-year-old's Southern California-cool image, and at that moment he looked every bit the part. Mouth parted in what could have been mistaken for a smile. Eyes scanning the pool before him and the crowd seated in the arena around him. A viewer would have been hard pressed to detect any sense of concern in the young man's body language.
Not the same happy-go-lucky kid
Shields talks like he stepped out of The Endless Summer and looks like every 20-something you see walking along Abbott Kinney Boulevard in board shorts and a pair of Vans on a sunny Saturday afternoon. At one time, he embraced the laid-back surfer persona, though he says it isn't representative of who he is now.
“I can appreciate that image, but it's totally fake," Shields said, amused at how he's perceived. After four years swimming for the University of California at Berkeley and more than three years competing in pro events in the U.S. and overseas, Tom felt the weight of expectations. “In 2012 [at the London Olympic trials], I had the talent but I didn't do the work. I was just happy to be there," he said. “This time was different – I worked hard to be competitive and put a lot of pressure on myself."
Of the men lined up in Omaha, only the top two would qualify for the Games. Shields took his place on the block, his torso hovering over his bent knees, deathly still, waiting for his shot at creating a legacy in the sport that has meant so much to him since childhood. His parents, Tim and Jolene, were both avid surfers who taught their children the finer points of staying buoyant in the Pacific Ocean. “One of my first memories is of my dad teaching me to swim," Tom said.
By age 7, Tom was part of a youth club near their home in Huntington Beach, California. Throughout his childhood, Tim and Jolene supported Tom's amateur pursuits, rousing him from bed well before dawn for morning practices and transporting him around the state and the country for meets. “We became that swimming family that we always said we would never be," Tim recalled.
The pool became Tom's sanctuary. In spite of excelling at team sports growing up, social anxiety made the solo aspect of swimming more favorable to him. “It's always been hard for me to get along and make new friends," he confided. “Even now, I get a lot of anxiety. When I get in the water, it resets me."
Tom credits his dad as one of the most influential people in his life. Not only did Tim have a cool job as a pilot, he was a successful water polo player in his youth, and was able to help Tom navigate the college recruitment process. Tom has flown United for years, thanks to his family connections and his involvement with Team USA, which United has sponsored for more than 35 years. Father and son occasionally cross paths in an airport somewhere during their travels, and in 2008, Tom got the ultimate in-flight surprise. “I was flying back from Sydney, Australia, with the junior team, and my dad walked up next to my seat on the plane and said 'Hey dude.' I had no idea that he was going to be our pilot."
Competing with a legend
When the buzzer sounded to start the 200-meter finals in Omaha, the American hopefuls dove in unison. In the lane next to him, the most decorated American Olympian of all time took an early lead, but Shields hung close by as the other six fell back. After the second turn he was vying for first. Shields came on strong halfway through the final lap and, for a moment, it looked like he might pull it off. Shields finished the race in second place, earning his first Olympic berth. In spite of the significance of the moment, Shields might have been one of the most disappointed swimmers in the pool.
“My swims need to be a lot faster," he said. “I've got to get back to my process, and coming in second was a good way for me to reconnect with the fact that there is more work that needs to be done."
Team USA began training together shortly after Omaha, and the members had but a few weeks to think about their respective processes before they all departed for Rio at the end of July. For his part, Shields focused on getting rest, working on his flexibility by doing yoga, watching race film and getting back in touch with his technique. While he was busy doing that, his friends and family were coming to terms with the more surreal aspects of having a world-class athlete in their midst.
Shields's image currently graces boxes of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and Corn Flakes and his legion of fans grow by the day. “It's weird," Tim admitted. “His face is on the cereal box and people are waiting in line after meets to get his autograph. This experience has been unbelievably fun for the family."
On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).
A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, we knew we were uniquely positioned to utilize our widebody aircraft and our network to keep commodities moving, so we quickly mobilized various departments throughout the airline to launch a cargo-only network of flights that would keep commodities moving," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "Thanks to those efforts, United Cargo has delivered millions of items to countries all around the world. We would not have been successful without the steadfast support of our employees, industry partners and our customers."
Since last March, United Cargo has transported almost 850 million pounds of freight on cargo-only and passenger flights. The airline will continue to monitor market trends adjust its cargo-only flight schedules to help ensure we are meeting our customer's evolving shipping needs.
Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:
1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance and more
Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check.
Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.
2. Check out the Travel-Ready Center
Our Travel-Ready Center makes it easy to get a personalized overview of everything you need to do in preparation for your flight. Just enter your confirmation number or MileagePlus® number and you'll find detailed information on all the documents, tests and more that you'll need for your trip.
3. Read and sign the Ready-to-Fly checklist
Before completing check-in, all United travelers will need to read our Ready-to-Fly checklist and confirm that they understand and agree to our policies. These include:
Acknowledging that you haven't had any symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 14 days
Agreeing that you will not fly if you have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 21 days
Confirming that you will follow all policies regarding face masks, social distancing and other health and safety measures we've adopted
4. Arrive early; avoid the stress
Airports can be busy, especially during peak travel periods like spring break season. The TSA advises arriving at the airport two hours before your flight for domestic travel and three hours for international travel in anticipation of long security lines. This can help ease the stress when navigating busy check-in areas, security lines and crowded boarding gates.
5. Get familiar with CleanPlus
United CleanPlus℠ is our commitment to delivering industry-leading cleanliness as we put health and safety at the forefront of your experience. We've teamed up with Clorox to redefine our cleaning and disinfection procedures and Cleveland Clinic to advise us on enhancing our cleaning and disinfection protocols, like:
Disinfecting high-touch areas on board and in the terminal
Using electrostatic spraying, Ultraviolet C lighting wands and more advanced measures to clean aircraft cabins before boarding
Redesigning our mobile app to allow for touchless check-in and contactless payment, along with enhanced travel assistance features
Implementing high-efficiency (HEPA) filters on our aircraft that completely recirculate cabin air every 2-3 minutes and remove 99.97% of airborne particles, including viruses and bacteria
Studies show COVID-19 exposure risk is minimal when air filtration systems and masks are in use, so you can rest assured that the steps we've taken to keep you safe truly make a difference.
6. Wear your mask
Federal law requires all travelers to wear a face mask in the airport, including customer service counters, airport lounges, gates and baggage claim, and on board during their entire flight. Make sure you review the requirements for face masks, including what an acceptable face mask looks like.
7. Get ready for a safer boarding process
To make boarding even safer, we now have travelers board their aircraft from back to front. At the gate, just listen for your row number to be called – we'll ask a few rows at a time to board, starting with the last row of the plane. This helps everyone maintain a safe distance from each other during boarding without slowing things down. As you step onto the plane, flight attendants will hand each passenger a sanitizing towelette, which you can use to wipe down your seat to ensure it's extra clean.
8. Pack smart
Before packing your bags, check to see what exactly you can carry on and what you should plan to check. You can also copy your confirmation number into our Baggage Calculator tool to learn about the bag allowance included with your reservation, as well as the cost of checking any additional bags.
9. Check your flight status, important notices and weather
Check the United app regularly for the latest updates on weather conditions, flight status, gate numbers and seat assignments. You can also visit our Important Notices page to find essential information and updates about travel waivers, international travel, TSA and security, airports and United Club locations.
10. Relax and enjoy your flight
Once you're on board, it's time to sit back and enjoy your flight. Our flight attendants will be happy to help you with anything else you need.
This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.
"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.
We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Take your next video call from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude with United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Newly added to our collection is a background encouraging our employees and customers to vote. Our mission is to connect people and unite the world — and one of the most important ways to do that is to engage in the democratic process. No matter which party you support, we know our democracy will be stronger if you make your voice heard and vote.
So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started.
To use on Zoom:
- Start here by downloading your favorite United image to your computer or mobile device. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- Next go to your Zoom app (you'll need to download the app to access backgrounds) and click on the arrow to the right of your video camera icon in the bottom of the screen.
- From here select, "choose virtual background" to upload your uniquely United photo.
To use on Microsoft Teams:
- Start by downloading your favorite United image to your computer. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- C:\[insert your device user name here]\AppData\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads
- If you're using a Mac copy the images to this folder on your computer:
- /users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Teams/Backgrounds/Uploads
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- Once you start a Teams meeting, click the "…" in the menu bar and select "Show background effects" and your image should be there
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