Drew Shellenberger crosses the finish line of men's triathlon at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 on Oct. 8, 2018, in Buenos Aires.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – It took Drew Shellenberger 54 minutes and 47 seconds to get to the finish line of the men’s triathlon Monday, swimming 500 meters, biking 19.5 kilometers and running five more. His seventh-place finish – a strong result for an American man at an Olympic or Youth Olympic event – was all his own effort. Getting him to the starting line, however, was definitely a Shellenberger family affair.
Drew began his athletic career at the age of four. His parents – Todd, an age-group triathlete, and Jamie, a racewalker who represented the U.S. at the 1982 Pan American Junior Athletics Championships – credit his sister for getting him active at such a young age.
“He was the poster child for second children: where his sister Erika went, he tagged along,” Todd explained. “So she started introducing him to sports as the older sister.”
When Erika started swimming in second grade, he came along to the pool. Though technically too young to join the club at just 4 years old, the instructors gave him a chance.
“He dove right in and actually started swimming freestyle across the pool,” Erika recalled. After that, she said, “I had a little shadow.”
When she began running with her middle school team in fifth grade, he came to practices as well, running in conjunction even though he was three years too young to actually join the team. His speed was already readily apparent; despite his short height compared to the taller, older kids, he was often able to keep up.
Even as Erika joked about having been a little embarrassed to have a sidekick, she emanated pride when talking about how far her brother has come.
“It’s really fun to see him finally get to wear the Stars and Stripes just like he wanted.”
There was a possibility that Drew might not have been at the Youth Olympic Games as a triathlete. Earlier in his athletic journey, he was an avid golfer, and actually introduced Erika to the sport. Erika no longer swims or runs as often, but thanks to Drew she does play golf for her university.
Meanwhile, Drew stuck with swimming and running, picking up biking as well. His budding career is promising – he won the 2017 and 2018 USA Triathlon High School National Championships, as well as the 2017 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships. Yet even as Drew’s races get more elite, the sport remains a fun event to participate in as a family.
“Wherever we go, we’re always doing a triathlon,” Todd said.
His family may not have raced with Drew today, but to have them there as his cheering squad was, he said, “a big honor.” With how much they have influenced his success, it was only fitting they were able to witness his achievement for Team USA.
“It means a lot just that they would take their time, and that my sister’s professors in college would be willing to let her skip some school to come down and watch me at these Games.”
The Youth Olympic Games were founded with the intention of inspiring young athletes, and judging by 16-year-old Drew’s electric energy after the race, the event was absolutely successful in that regard.
“Crossing the finish line with the flag in my hands – it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said, grinning. “I can’t wait to do it again later in my career.”
That next time is coming quickly – Drew will take part in the mixed team relay on Thursday, racing together with three other athletes from across the Americas.
In the meantime, though, it was time to go find and hug his family. After all, they got him to the starting line; it was only fitting he celebrate with them at the finish.