The youngish-looking coach and nurse is disarmingly candid. His office at Montessori School and International Academy, which doubles as infirmary, is filled with medical and athletic supplies for Shane DeGannes's dual professions.
The award-winning athlete gives one of his engaging smiles, but expresses a bit of wonder.
"I've never really been interviewed like this before," he says. "Just a few comments after a race."
Well, more's the pity. It turns out DeGannes is an untapped treasure.
He arrived at his present post rather serendipitously. Born on St. Thomas, DeGannes was raised and schooled in Camden, N.J., where his parents moved when he was three.
A suggestion by his Crucian grandfather, Victor Clairmont, led to the return to his birthplace.
"My wife, Asha, got her doctorate in educational psychology about three years ago, but she was having trouble finding work in the states," DeGannes says, "when my grandfather suggested she apply at UVI. And she is now assistant professor of statistics and social sciences at the campus’s Eastern Caribbean Center.
"I didn't know anything about the island, since I had never come back," DeGannes says. "But I was ordained to be here. The Lord brought me right back where I was born to do great things with kids."
He pauses. "That is to say, children, not kids," coach/nurse corrects himself with a smile.
"I cashed in my retirement, and I sent an application to the hospital, where I really wanted to work, but when we enrolled our five-year-old daughter Devon at Montessori, that changed," DeGannes says. "They asked me what my background was, and when I told them, headmistress McWeeney said that's just the combination they were looking for."
Thus was born the school's first coach/nurse.
"I just fell into it," DeGannes says."I had really wanted to work at the hospital, but my wife was a huge press for me to take this job."
DeGannes has no regrets, anything but. "Talk about a dream job," he says. "It's hard to describe a typical day," he says. "There isn't one. In fact, I just got back from Red Hook Family Practice where I'd taken a boy who had fallen and cut his lip. Five stitches."
Though he has years of nursing experience, this is DeGannes's first formal job working with children from toddlers to teens, but every summer for the past 20 years he has served as camp coach and counselor for the one-week Scatico Cross Country Camp in upstate New York.
"Whenever I get a job, I say that's nonnegotiable; I must have that time off."
He holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Fairleigh Dickinson University and a registered nursing diploma from the Helene Fuld School of Nursing. "When I graduated from nursing school," he says, "the world simply opened up to me."
During his career as a registered nurse, Shane worked as a medical-surgical in a hospital in Camden, where he received various awards for clinical excellence and compassion.
And he says he owes it all to his passion for running. "I attended school on an athletic scholarship," he says. "My talent to run was the only reason I got to college."
In high school, as an AAU runner, DeGannes placed 3rd in the country in the 1500 meters and was a 4:14 miler. In college, he ran a 1:48 indoor 800 meters and was an NCAA qualifier. He ran his first marathon in 2009 and finished in 3:24.
And he hasn't stopped. When he hit St. Thomas, he has managed to "win every race on the island this year," he says, gathering up new clippings he will send to his grandfather.
DeGannes coaches the Montessori cross-country team. "Our elementary team won first place this year," he says. "And that turned some heads. And our elementary volleyball team won first place last night. Our big asset is our coaches – Senor Aaraujo and Junior Jacquez and myself are a powerhouse team."
DeGannes is a firm believer in what athletics bring to academics and the arts. "I want to get athletics running at the highest level," he says. "It's all integrated."
Meantime, little knocks come at irregular intervals on the door. DeGannes excuses him, dons his stethoscope and heads to the outer office. Headmaster McWeeney, who stopped in for a minute, says, "I think they come to get their 'Shane' fix."
McWeeney, who is finally retiring this year after decades at the helm of the school, says DeGannes has brought the school something invaluable. "We have never been able to fund two full-time positions." She says, "Shane really fills a void. He is wonderful. He works hard.
“He's organized, and the children love him, but he's firm with them. He can tell if a student is really ill, or is faking it."
The shelves in his tiny office hold the medical records of each of the 302 students, as well as loads of assorted athletic equipment.
"I have my own standards for the health of my students," he says. "People can be resistant to change. I want a standard annual physical for each student. Sometimes that's the only time the child sees a doctor. The parents now must take their children to the doctor and give me the records."
He says, "I'm tailoring the job to my own specifications. No one has had this job before, so I'm creating this path for myself. I've started my own little supply closet, so I can keep my meds there, under lock and key."
There's a massage table that suffices for infirmary needs. "Lots of things were donated from parents," he says with his engaging smile, which he admits helped the donations along. "I get lots of donations, crutches, medical and athletic supplies."
Oops, another knock at the door. "Sorry, I've got to attend to this," coach/nurse says with one of those smiles. "And thank you."