Slash’ as different as guns and roses

Ryan Schuster

Senior men’s swimmer Matt Schlessman’s personality is as varied as the slow ballads of classical music and the ripping jams of a Rage Against the Machine song.
“He’s got two sides to him,” said student coach and former Gophers All-American swimmer Derek Williams. “Some people will look at him and think that he’s an innocent person, but in other ways he isn’t.”
Schlessman’s personalities are well-represented by his musical interests. He likes to listen to heavy metal bands White Zombie, Pantera and Rage Against the Machine in addition to more conventional classical and country music.
The 22-year-old mechanical engineering student considers seeing Pantera in concert last summer one of the greatest experiences of his life. He also had a motorcycle two summers ago, further adding to his alter-ego.
“It was kind of funny because it was a really small one,” his roommate and swimming teammate Jeremy Rients said, cracking a smile. “He’s a pretty big guy and he would be riding it around and it would look pretty funny.”
His nickname also takes some people by surprise at first. Schlessman is called “Slash” by his teammates because of the similarity to his last name — not because he is like the guitarist for Guns n’ Roses.
“Whenever people first hear it, they kind of look at me funny,” Schlessman said. “Is this guy on drugs or something? It’s kind of funny because when you think of Slash you think of some wild and crazy guy. I don’t think I’m wild and crazy. I’m pretty laid back.”
Schlessman is usually more reserved and fairly conservative. He is an excellent student and spends much of his time studying for his IT classes. Last year Schlessman was an Academic All-American and All-Big Ten academic team selection. He also had the second highest grade point average in the men’s athletics department.
He is just as serious about swimming. At last year’s Big Ten championships, Schlessman swam on the first-place 200-, 400- and 800-yard freestyle relay teams and was a finalist in three other individual events.
This season he is swimming better than he did in his three previous years at Minnesota. He currently has the fastest time in the Big Ten this year in the 100 freestyle and also has top 10 conference times in two other events.
“My focus has changed more this year from just trying to get through practices to enjoying the season,” Schlessman said. “I’m having more fun this year. I’m starting to realize this is my last year.”
Schlessman is just as good of an influence on his teammates as he is an outstanding swimmer. This year he became the first two-time captain at Minnesota since coach Dennis Dale took over in 1985.
“I wish everybody on the team was like Matt,” Dale said. “He’s a great role model. He’s not overly demonstrative, but when he talks, the team listens.”
His teammates agree. Schlessman is one of the most respected swimmers on the team. Despite his weighty accomplishments in the pool, the true measure of Schlessman is his compassion for others.
“He was my host when I came here on my recruiting trip,” said freshman swimmer Bill Bishop. “That’s one of the reasons why I decided to come here. He is a real team motivator. If you are down he is always giving you a shot, saying Come on, you can do better than that.’ He is just a class guy.”