Steve Sholdra can’t stop. Whether it’s another board to join, another scholarship to earn, or another few seconds to shave off his swim times, Sholdra isn’t afraid to take on a new challenge.
“All the pressure, all the opportunities, it’s a really strong part of my childhood,” Sholdra said. “Having to balance out and schedule my time so closely will really help in college.”
The 17-year-old homeschool senior has been an impact athlete from the moment he took his first stroke with the Renton swim team. Last season as junior he became the first Renton athlete to win an individual state title in 16 years when he won the 500-yard freestyle, shattering the state record and earning All-American consideration along the way.
And that drive to overachieve doesn’t dry up outside the pool. Sholdra carries a 4.0 GPA and he’ll be attending Fordham University in New York on a swimming scholarship.
Sholdra is an ambassador with Seafair and One World Now. He’s a volunteer with the Midlakes Swim League as a coach and the First Tee as a coach. He is part of the Washington Homeschool Organization and the NW Burn Foundation. He is a Founding Chair of the Make The Dash Count Renton chapter.
As a Seattle Seafair Ambassador, he traveled to Kobe Japan. As a U.S. Youth Ambassador for One World Now, he went to Qatar in 2011, where he was able to practice one of his hobbies, speaking Arabic.
Think that’s enough? Not quite. In his “spare” time, Sholdra has taken the Pacific Northwest Swimming newsletter from non-existence to its current blooming state where his interviewees include former Olympians and planned expansions include articles from coaches’, officials’ and volunteers’ viewpoints.
The need to get out and see everything possible came from his parents early on.
“Just getting experience with so many broad things really started a drive in me to want to go out there,” he said. “There are so many great opportunities, you just have to know where to find them.”
With a list of extra-curricular activities rivaling the list of his swimming accolades, free time isn’t something Sholdra gets much of.
“I don’t really sit around and do nothing ever,” he said. “It keeps your life more exciting.”
Sholdra keeps a detailed calendar to his two or three practices, studying, and various board meetings in line. Time management is essential.
“By nature swimmers, the better and more focused they get, learn time management very quickly,” said Renton swim coach Diane Pavelin. “Usually overachievers in one thing are overachievers across the board. They’re the ones with no time and yet they’re the ones who find the time.”
For someone with so much going on, the defining characteristic of Sholdra might be the most noticeable: he’s a nice guy.
“Steve is the most considerate polite guy you could ever meet,” Pavelin said. It’s a personality trait that’s served Sholdra well, especially with his accomplishments.
“With him being so good, it could get really irritating to people, except he’s just so darn nice,” she added.
Being that good hasn’t come easily. Between Sholdra’s practices with the Bellevue Club Swim team and Renton, to say he’s in the pool a lot is an understatement. During the winter, Sholdra averages about 6,500 meters a day in training. During the high-school season, that goes up to about 8,500 meters with at least nine practices each week. In the summer, it’s two-a-day practices, with 11,000-12,000 meters. It’s a ton of swimming, but it’s working.
Aside from his success at Renton, Sholdra been racking up achievements on the club level for a long time. His biggest came Dec. 18 last year when he swam a time of 15:24.53 in the 1,650 free, good enough for an NCAA “B” cut. That means Sholdra was among the 16 fastest national swimmers in the event and qualified for the NCAA Div. I Championships. That was something he wasn’t planning on doing for a year or two. Even so, he’s not slowing down now.
“You can’t just rest on your laurels, there’s always a level higher than you,” he said.
Pavelin said at his stage in his career (without knowing how Sholdra’s college accomplishments will stack up with Renton alums like Mark Prothero), Sholdra is definitely up there with the best swimmers in Renton’s history. She’s especially impressed with his versatility.
“He might even be a little bit better because he’s an Ironman for two years,” she said. “If you look in that context he might be the best one Renton has ever had.”
Sholdra finished his Ironman status (qualifying for state in all eight events) earlier this season against Steilacoom. He also holds three Renton High records, the 500, 100-breast and 100-fly. The 500-free record came at the expense of Prothero’s 36-year-old mark. Sholdra was happy to see Prothero came to the state meet to see him win the 500 title last year.
“I respect Mark Prothero so much,” Sholdra said. “Hopefully when the next Renton swimmer comes up who can break that 500 record, I can be there to congratulate him too. It’s great that he came all the way to state, and I hope I can continue that tradition.”
Sholdra wants to major in International Affairs at Fordham and continue his studies in Arabic. He’s hoping the school will start an Arabic program and a minor by the time he graduates.
He’ll be defending his title at the 2A state swim and dive meet Feb. 16-18 at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.