Barbara Shockey-Milanese began swimming at six. By 14, she had set two provincial records in both the 400 and 800-metre freestyles. Although she was talented in several strokes, the 800-metre freestyle became her forte.
In 1978, she placed fifth in this event at the Commonwealth Games. The same summer, she placed 9th and 11th in the 400 and 800-metre freestyle at the Worlds Championships in Berlin.
At the 1979 Pan American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she won a bronze medal in the 800-metre freestyle with her best ever time of 8:52.82.