By Wes Mayberry
ADA — A two-time conference champion and seven-time All-Conference performer, senior Shelby Starkey (Bellefontaine) is an accomplished member of the Ohio Northern women's swimming and diving team. But swimming at the collegiate level is not what brought her to ONU.
"I chose ONU for the pharmacy program. I knew graduating with a pharmacy degree from Ohio Northern would set me up for a successful future," Starkey said. "Swimming at Ohio Northern became a bonus. I visited with the team after deciding to study pharmacy, and being a part of this team was an opportunity I didn't want to miss out on."
As a pharmacy major, Starkey must balance her rigorous academic responsibilities with those of being a collegiate swimmer. She admits that it took her some time to find that balance and still doesn't manage it well at times. But she has developed some helpful strategies.
"The workload, especially during swim season, can be pretty overwhelming, but over the past three years, I have learned that making lists and writing out very detailed schedules is the key to being successful in these areas. I have also found that if you want something bad enough, you can find a way to make it work," she said. "I spend as much time throughout the day during breaks from classes to study so that I won't be up super late, allowing me to be well rested for swim practice. I also think of swim practice as my mental break for the day, and I tend to look forward to practice so I can just not think about school for a couple hours."
It is that commitment and motivation that has allowed Starkey to shine in the pool while keeping up with her academics. She won the first two Ohio Athletic Conference championships of her career last season — in the 100 back and as a member of the 400 medley relay team — giving her seven All-OAC finishes in her career, including two each in the 200 back, 200 medley relay and 400 medley relay. And she's going into this season not resting on her laurels.
"To me, those accomplishments mean there is more work to be done. Having that feeling of relief when the hard work of the season paid off gave me new fuel for this upcoming season. I want that feeling again," she said. "The relay was an especially fun experience. Winning as a team made me feel so much closer to my teammates, and it was super fun to celebrate together."
The conference titles and All-Conference accolades are just the icing on the cake of Starkey's experience as a member of the ONU swimming and diving team, though, as her personal growth has been her favorite part.
"I have grown in the obvious academic and athletic ways, but more importantly, I have grown as a person," she said. "I am more confident and comfortable with who I am than when I first came to ONU, and I believe that is because of the experiences I have had and the people I have met here at ONU."
Head coach Austin Veltman has also been a huge influence on Starkey.
"I like that he is constantly pushing us to be the best versions of ourselves both in the pool and in the classroom. He emphasizes that we are here to be a student first and then an athlete," she said. "He is constantly looking for ways to keep our sets interesting and to keep us motivated to work hard in the pool and the weight room."
That respect is mutual, as Veltman recognizes Starkey's value to his team.
"Shelby works hard and correctly, has a great attitude, manages her time well and really cares about the team and her teammates," Veltman said.
Starkey's love of swimming dates all the way back to when she started competing at 7 years old.
"My mom wanted me to give swimming a try because she swam when she was in grade school, and she was always looking for new things for me to try," she said. "I quickly came to love swimming mainly for the social aspect but later came to love it for the challenge it offers as well."
As she became more serious about the sport, Starkey moved from team to team in her journey that ultimately landed her in Ada. She first joined the Bellefontaine Summer Swim Team and later swam for the Buckeye Hilliker YMCA, Hilliker Heat, Columbus Tigersharks, Ohio State Swim Club and Springfield YMCA in addition to the team at Bellefontaine High School. Along the way, she has come to enjoy the goal-setting aspect of competitive swimming.
"I like to set lofty goals for myself knowing that even if I don't achieve them, I will be better at the end of the season," she said. "Setting goals gives me the motivation needed to get through hard sets and long weeks of training."
While she loved competitive swimming, doing so at the collegiate level wasn't initially on her radar. Instead, she was focused on pursuing a career in the medical field. Originally, her career of choice was to be a veterinarian. But a job shadowing experience caused her to change her mind.
"After shadowing a vet, I decided I couldn't handle all of the blood. But I still wanted to do something medical, so I decided on pharmacy," she said. "I also liked hearing about all of the options the profession of pharmacy has to offer and knowing I will never feel stuck in one area of it."
Boasting a 94% job placement rate within six months of students' graduation, the Raabe College of Pharmacy at ONU proved to be an easy choice for where Starkey should pursue her pharmaceutical degree. Upon graduating from the six-year program, she hopes to use that degree to complete humanitarian work in developing nations.
"I would love the opportunity to work for a program such as Doctors Without Borders," she said. "My desire is to work in underserved populations."
While at ONU, Starkey has also found time for extracurricular involvement. She is a current member of the Kappa Psi pharmaceutical fraternity and an American Pharmacists Association outreach chair and was previously a member of Kappa Phi and the ONU golf team. She also serves as a captain for the women's swimming and diving team.
"My main goals as a captain this season are to help the freshmen feel welcomed to the team, unite the men's and women's teams and to rebuild the team atmosphere we had prior to COVID," she said.
With her senior swimming season now underway, Starkey has high hopes for what she and the Polar Bears can accomplish.
"I hope to add more conference titles this season, and I would love to see another top-two conference finish for the women's team," she said. "I want to leave this team with a strong team-based atmosphere where we make each other better, and I hope that this atmosphere will only continue to grow after I'm gone."
More about Shelby
Fun Fact: Shelby is a third-generation ONU student. Her grandfather graduated from law school at ONU in 1964, and her mother graduated from the college of business in 1990.
Top ONU Professor: Shelby cites the cardiology module as her favorite course thus far and Dr. Soph Chrissobolis as her favorite professor. "I enjoyed cardio because it was the first class where I felt like I was really learning things that will be used in my future profession. Everything I had learned over the previous three years finally came together and started to click. It was super exciting to finally learn about how the medications work in the body and why each medication is used for specific disease states," she said. "Dr. Chrissobolis taught quite a few of the lectures in the course. He was always very good about pointing out the information we really need to know, and he very clearly cares about the success of all of us. He is very friendly and keeps class interesting."
Restaurant: Buffalo Wild Wings
TV Show: Heartland
Movie: Safe Haven
Sport (other than swimming): Baseball
Pro Sports Team: Kansas City Royals
Pro Athlete: Katie Ledecky
Music Genre: Country
Singer: Morgan Wallen
Place She's Traveled To: Aruba