Andrew “Drew” Shellenberger can be forgiven for not remembering much about his first triathlon. He was only 4 years old, after all. He’s pretty sure he didn’t win it. But apparently he had a lot of fun.
“Mom says I whistled the entire bike course. I was having a wingding of a time,” he said.
At 16, Shellenberger certainly remembers his more recent races. He won last year’s USA Triathlon High School National Championships in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and took the youth elite title at the USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships in West Chester, Ohio. He repeated as high school national champion earlier this year.
This season, he is stepping up to the junior elite level at Youth & Junior Nationals. He’s looking forward to the challenge of aging up to the 16-19 age group.
“I’ve been watching these guys for years. I’ve watched them race. They are impressive,” Shellenberger said.
Shellenberger’s early start in multisport can be traced to his father, Todd, a personal trainer and USA Triathlon Level I and Youth & Junior Certified Coach.
After his early start in triathlon, Shellenberger gravitated to swimming and running teams at school. But by age 11 or 12, he was already bored with training for one sport per season. Multisport came to the rescue.
“(Triathlon) is such a diverse skill set. You have to be competitive in three sports,” he said. “It breaks the monotony of training for one sport. There is always something fun to look forward to.”
His friends have another view.
“They think, one sport is not hard enough, I’ve got to have three,” Shellenberger said. “People call me three times the crazy.”
Shellenberger competes in the 500-yard freestyle event for Coach Matt Jeffries on the Southport High School swim team in Indianapolis. He also runs track and cross country for Coach Herman Bueno at the school, where he’ll be a junior this fall. He depends on the school teams for swim and run workouts, and supportive Southport administrators let him substitute a bike or run workout for study hall. His dad gives him a basic framework for bike workouts. He also gets advice from Dave Ripley at 51 Speedshop, an Indianapolis-based company specializing in bike fitting, aero products and coaching.
Heavy training volume is the key. A week includes up to 10 hours of swimming, 35 to 40 miles of running and 130 miles or more of biking. He spends the majority of long Midwestern winters on a smart trainer linked to the Internet.
“There is really no secret to it. It’s just putting in the mileage and saddle time,” Shellenberger said. “I don’t think I’m doing anything different or out of the ordinary. Whatever I’ve been doing, it’s working.”
Race strategy is simple. For non-draft legal events, he just goes hard from start to finish. For draft-legal events, he wants to be in the first group out of the water and join a breakaway of three or four riders on the bike to gap stronger runners and stay in front to the finish.
His goal? The Olympics, naturally. “(The Games in) 2028 would be the best bet, but maybe if I peak a little earlier I could be in the hunt for 2024,” he said.
He takes a big step toward that goal this October, when he will compete for the U.S. at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As the U.S. male representative in the triathlon (fellow junior Parker Albright is the U.S. women’s representative), Shellenberger will race alongside 31 other young athletes from around the world.
Shellenberger is highly mechanical. He built up his own bike from a Boardman frame and SRAM components. His plans include majoring in aerospace engineering in college so he can work at Zipp Speed Weaponry in Indianapolis designing aero components for bikes while competing in triathlon professionally.
“It really has just made me a harder worker since day one when I found out this could be a living,” he said. “Every little kid’s dream is to be a professional athlete of some sort. The idea that I have the talent and opportunity to go live that life as a teenager and preview what it’s going to be like as an adult is awesome.”
Scott Richardson is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach and founder of Beyond Normal Fitness in Normal, Illinois.