Back to his roots

Professional triathlete Drew Shellenberger reflects on the importance of his time at SHS
Former SHS student Drew Shellenberger adjusts his glasses during a sponsor shoot for Rudy Project, a company who makes some of his typical gear. (photo contributed by Drew Shellenberger)
Former SHS student Drew Shellenberger adjusts his glasses during a sponsor shoot for Rudy Project, a company who makes some of his typical gear. (photo contributed by Drew Shellenberger)
Watch a video about Shellenberger preparing for the 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games!

Todd Shellenberger remembers watching his son Drew Shellenberger, a 2020 SHS graduate, compete in his first triathlon at just 4 years old. Without a care in the world, Shellenberger whistled his entire way through the race.

“He was just having fun,” Todd said, “and the seeds were planted from there.”

Since this first race, Shellenberger has continued to pursue triathlons. He raced throughout his early teen years and during his time at SHS, gradually performing at increasingly high levels.

During his four years of high school, he qualified for two Junior World Championship Triathlon teams and also earned a spot in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Argentina, where he placed seventh.

To continue his upward trajectory, Shellenberger committed to an elite triathlon development group based in Tempe, Arizona called Project Podium during his senior year to help him reach his goal of qualifying for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

“The whole push right now from USA Triathlon is to get a man on the podium at the home Olympics,” Shellenberger said. “Obviously that would be insane to race in front of a home crowd.”

From learning to balance academics while training to gain fitness and continue to nurture a positive mindset, Shellenberger’s time in high school was instrumental to his current success.

“I can’t say enough nice things about all the people at Southport (and) how great they were to him,” Todd said, “because he had a fabulous high school experience, and it was definitely a major factor in his success and his being where he is right now.”

After attending Perry Meridian Middle School, Shellenberger chose to move to SHS because he already had relationships with the cross country, track and swimming coaches. He knew that these relationships would provide the foundation he needed to train well and compete in triathlons at a high level. Because he was balancing high school athletics with his triathlon career, Shellenberger’s coaches had to adjust his training to cater to both goals.

“His parents and I met on a pretty regular basis just to talk about objectives and season planning so that we could hit on the things that he needed to hit on and then also hit on the same things that the high school team needed,” former SHS swim coach Matt Jeffries said.

The records for the SHS boys swimming and diving team. Shellenberger holds five of these records: three as part of a relay and two individually. (Morgan Harmon)

After he committed to Project Podium, Shellenberger’s future coach Parker Spencer and Jeffries began meeting with each other to discuss how to structure training.

They tried to find the “happy medium” with Shellenberger’s training that would allow him to compete at a high level with swimming while also keeping his triathlon performance goals in mind.

Keeping triathlon front and center, Project Podium was a natural next step for Shellenberger as the team is designed to fill the gap between Junior Elite and Elite triathlon racing. Due to Title IX restrictions, there is no NCAA men’s triathlon, and thus USA Triathlon created Project Podium to help prepare college aged male triathletes to join the national team.

It’s the “first step” on the road to the Olympics, according to Shellenberger. Athletes join the team based on their World Triathlon Ranking, and there are currently 10 members.

“It truly is the best of the best in the U.S. at their age,” Spencer said.

Beyond being the “best high school triathlete in the country,” according to Spencer, Shellenberger had significant room to increase training and thus improve performance, which made his potential all the more exciting.

“There’s a lot of athletes that … will accomplish big things while they’re in high school, but it’s because they’re training twice as much as all their peers,” Spencer said, “and that wasn’t the case for Drew.”

At SHS, Shellenberger mostly trained one sport at a time, which he believes helped him immensely in his transition to the professional level.

“Having the three sports separate in high school really allowed me to sort of come into it with a fresh mindset and to have a lot of untapped potential,” Shellenberger said.

With the knowledge of his previous training, Spencer knew that Shellenberger would be able to improve by just increasing his training volume, which is the amount of time spent practicing.

Shellenberger and his teammates bike against their competition at the 2024 Americas Triathlon Championships in Miami on March 8, 2024. (photo contributed by Drew Shellenberger)

To keep up with Shellenberger’s team, follow @usatprojectpodium on Instagram!

The reasoning behind this style of training in high school was to keep triathlon fun. Shellenberger’s parents felt it was important to make sure he still enjoyed the sport and wanted training to be his choice.

The average age of peak performance for male Olympic triathletes is 27.1 years, according to a study by SpringerPlus, and Todd wanted to make sure his son would still have the same passion for triathlon when he reached that age.

“My volume when I joined the team that I’m currently on was way lower than any of the other guys that have joined since or were already on the team,” Shellenberger said, “and so I think that really helped my longevity.”

Today as part of Project Podium, Shellenberger trains three to four times each day, according to Spencer, and spends anywhere from 25 to 34 hours each week preparing for triathlons.

Because of his lower training volume in high school, the transition to this higher amount of training has been “much more fruitful” for him than some other people.

“This is still kind of a new mindset for me where all I do is triathlon,” Shellenberger said. “There’s not a swim meet, or a cross country race or a track meet … that’s around the corner that I’ve got to look forward to.”

Not only did Shellenberger’s time at SHS prepare him physically, but it also allowed him to learn how to balance school and training. Because the triathlon competition season runs from March to mid-October, he had to learn how to be independent with his education.

He now attends Arizona State University as an online student to allow him to have the time to complete the volume of training necessary to be a top-level triathlete. His previous experience figuring out how to motivate and teach himself has made the transition to college much easier.

“Having that prior practice of getting your priorities in line and executing that has paid big dividends,” Shellenberger said.

Beyond giving him experience with remote learning, SHS also allowed Shellenberger to have the schedule flexibility to be able to compete in high-profile races.

“(Former SHS Principal Brian Knight) sort of took me under his wing and was really helpful getting my teachers to help me out while I was going, and traveling and doing all of these races,” Shellenberger said.

During Shellenberger’s later high school years, he had a modified schedule, including several study halls, that allowed him to train during the school day. He would often bring a bike trainer into school to get in the practice he needed.

Shellenberger and teammate Darr Smith race against Brock Hoel, a Team Canada competitor, during the championship. (photo contributed by Drew Shellenberger)

Although Shellenberger’s journey with triathlon has taken him far away from Indiana, the foundation of his success was laid in Indianapolis and at SHS.

“I struggle to put into words just how important Southport and the Southport community was to Drew and getting him to where he is now,” Todd said.

Since he graduated, Shellenberger has become laser focused on triathlon training. With his eyes set on the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, he’ll continue to train and improve.

“Now, I’m a triathlete,” Shellenberger said. “This is what I do. This is who I am.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Lucy Hiller
Lucy Hiller, Sports Reporter
Howdy! My name is Lucy Hiller, and I’m a senior this year (whoop whoop), so I’m savoring every last second I get at SHS. For my third year on The Journal, I’m back as a Sports Writer. I spent last year as the Sports Editor, and while it was a truly incredible experience, I really missed getting to write and share peoples’ stories with the world. Outside of The Journal, I’m on the cross country, swimming and track teams at SHS, and I just got a job at Fleet Feet, so if you ever need running shoes, come find me. In my free time, I enjoy playing piano, reading and cooking (go check out @lucys.yums on Instagram). I also love spending time outdoors, especially on hikes with my family (and of course, Benny, my dog). One thing I’m really excited about this year is getting to help elementary students at Homecfort produce their own mini version of The Journal because it’s so rewarding to see their excitement when they finally hold the paper in their hands. I hope I haven’t distracted you from our content for too long already, but you should totally get back to reading all of the articles that has to offer.

Comments (0)

All The Journal Rewired Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *