Steve Sholdra, a senior headed to Fordham University in New York on a scholarship, became the first Indians' boys swimmer in 16 years to win an individual state title when he captured the 500 freestyle at the Class 2A meet last year.

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RENTON — He has gone from home-school to hometown hero.

A home-schooled student is the biggest reason for renewed public awareness in the Renton High School boys swimming program.

Enter shining star Steve Sholdra.

Sholdra, a senior headed to Fordham University in New York on a scholarship, became the first Indians’ boys swimmer in 16 years to win an individual state title when he captured the 500 freestyle in 2011 at the Class 2A meet at King County Aquatic Center.

Sholdra, 17, has been a big reason Renton is back on the map in boys swimming after a long dry spell. There couldn’t be a nicer, more polite guy helping the cause.

“For the most part, Steve is our first major club swimmer in a quite a while and that definitely makes a difference,” Renton boys swim coach Diane Pavelin said of Sholdra, who joined the program his sophomore season. “I know in the 1980s and 90s Renton was a really good program. When he came in, the bar was definitely raised.”

Sholdra is the first Renton High girl or boy to accept a scholarship for swimming since Hailey Nance accepted a full-ride to UNLV in 1998. He also was the school’s first state titlist since Jason Takahashi won the 100 backstroke in 1995.

“Everyone looked up at him, and even though they said, ‘Well, I can’t keep up with him,’ he’s been encouraging to his teammates,” Pavelin said. “Between him coming in and us dropping to [Class] 2A, it rejuvenated our program. It’s been easier for us to have a realistic shot at state. Now with the lure of state, it’s been a big motivational carrot.”

Sholdra achieved Ironman status last season, putting up qualifying times for state in each event. His state-winning time of 4:35.66 in the 500 free was a school record as was 1:00.97 in the 100 breaststroke.

“This sport has definitely helped build my character,” said Sholdra, who plans to major in international affairs and has taken an Arabic course. “I still played other sports growing up, but I focused more and more on swimming after starting when I was 7. The work ethic and what you got out of the sport was appealing.”

As a sophomore, Sholdra was the first state qualifier for Renton in 15 years when he made the 3A state meet. He took second in 4:42.06, just a little more than three seconds behind Bainbridge’s Andrew McCarthy in the 500 free in the 2010 state event.

In 2011, Sholdra helped the 200 medley relay take 10th place and he’s an example for teammates.

“He made guys say, ‘Man, we’ve got to up our game,’ ” Pavelin said. “It became a joke when the other three guys would be improving their times and Steve wouldn’t be.

“He helped the other guys improve, they felt really good and it wasn’t just the Steve Sholdra show. This group all has a lot of pride in Renton swimming. They knew they were laying the foundation for the resurgence of Renton swimming.”

Sholdra, who has competed for Bellevue Swim Club for 10 years, enjoys the family aspect of high-school swimming.

“With club, sometimes there’s three to four hours before each event,” he said. “Sometimes in high-school swimming, you can go back-to-back five minutes apart. It really made me respect all these high-school swimmers.

“Plus, your whole team is depending on you.”

Sholdra’s home-school experience allowed him to advance his education at his own pace.

“I mostly teach myself, and it’s a good opportunity to get a lot of levels ahead,” he said.

Sholdra’s initial motivation for learning to swim was the appeal of being able to go out on a neighbor’s new boat.

“I loved swimming since the start, and the reason I started was one of my neighbors bought a boat,” he said. “My parents’ rule was I couldn’t go until I could swim across the pool all the way.”

Thanks to the pull of Sholdra, Renton has returned to prominence.