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O.C. Boys Athlete of the Year: Santa Margarita's Grant Shoults
Grant Shoults’ love for just about any sport imaginable couldn’t be quenched during his early childhood.
He practiced Korean karate as a toddler and became a black belt at age 10.
The Laguna Hills resident played baseball - middle infielder, catcher and pitcher - for 12 years, including stints with travel teams.
He shared the sport of swimming with sister, Jax. He also played soccer, dabbled in lacrosse, basketball, flag football, gymnastics and chess. He ran a mile in five minutes, 19 seconds as a sixth-grader at St. Anne in Laguna Niguel.
“He just couldn’t get enough,” said his mother, Susan. “He always loved competing at anything.”
Shoults shifted his focus to swimming his freshman year at Santa Margarita, but his diverse upbringing had laid the groundwork for success in the pool.
He was mentally fresh and committed to the grind of Olympic-level training with the Mission Viejo Nadadores swim club. He also was mentally accustomed to making adjustments on the fly from his years of baseball.
Those factors fused with his determination this spring, pushing Shoults to become a national record-setting swimmer who showed a blend of speed and endurance that Orange County hadn’t seen.
“It’s rare,” Terry Stoddard, the Swim Pasadena coach and former coach of the Nadadores, said of Shoults’ combination of speed and endurance. “Grant is a machine.”
For his efforts, Shoults is the Register’s Orange County boys athlete of the year. He is the first swimming-focused male athlete to capture the award.
He recently received a similar athletic honor from the Orange County Athletic Directors Association.
“With some of the stuff that was being said (about the other students), I don’t know if I should have been in the (same) room,” Shoults said after the award ceremony.
Shoults’ sportsmanship and humble demeanor helped earn him an award for character from the athletic directors earlier this year.
The Stanford-bound senior carries a 4.2 grade-point average and aspires to be a surgeon.
He also distinguished himself in the pool.
At the CIF-SS Division 1 Finals in Riverside on May 14, in a span of about 1½ hours, Shoults set national high school records in the 200- and 500-yard freestyles, capping a sensational season.
In the 200 free, he clocked a time of 1 minute, 33.26 seconds to break the record set earlier in the day by Granada’s Maxime Rooney, his friend and former U.S. junior teammate.
Shoults claimed the 500 free in a stunning time of 4:12.87, breaking the national record by a full second.
He clocked both times without shaving or tapering, as he kept his focus on the U.S. Olympic Trials this summer.
“You boss,” Rooney texted Shoults.
Shoults praised his coaches at the Nadadores for training him to navigate high school swimming’s middle-distance and distance freestyle events. He also noted his appreciation for his high school coaches, Rich and Ron Blanc, and his desire to push his limits as a senior.
“I love racing … (and) high school swimming is fun,” he said.
Shoults, who turned 19 on Monday, believes his upbringing contributed heavily to his success.
“Growing up with multiple sports definitely had an impact on how much I love (swimming) today,” he said.
“Those (multi-sport athletes) are the kids who typically don’t get burnt out.”
A freak elbow injury in the fall of his freshman year helped Shoults pick one sport. He injured cartilage in his elbow while playing with the family’s dog, an Australian Shepherd named Bella. Part of the physical therapy for his elbow involved swimming.
“All right, God, I understand what you’re trying to say to me,” he said to himself.
Shoults’ progress in swimming was steady. As a 110-pound freshman, he entered high school with a 1:47 in the 200 free and dropped to a 1:42 just weeks into the season.
Still, he was nowhere near the national record he set last month.
As a freshman at his first CIF Division 1 Finals, he finished third in the 500 free with a 4:26.47, about 13½ seconds off the national record he set last month.
“My progression wasn’t over night,” said Shoults, a two-time Register swimmer of the year. “But if you build that technique and it’s there … you’ll see (improvement).”
Shoults said he learned to make adjustments quickly in baseball. When he set the national record in the 200 free, he said he used a new stroke that he is still working on for the U.S. Trials.
“I learned so much from baseball,” he said.
As he recalls his sports-crazy youth, he notes the important role played by his parents, Scott and Susan.
“If they didn’t work with my schedule, I don’t know if I’d be (at this level) today,” he said.
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