VINTON — Arabella Shepard is the face of the Vinton-Shellsburg/Union girls’ swimming program.
When you hold school records in all events with the exception of diving, the focus always will be on you. Shepard admits she has mixed feelings about the attention.
“I don’t like being the center of attention,” she said. “Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable, but if it brings more publicity to my girls to increase their chances of being noticed and cared about in years to come then I feel really good about it.”
The senior has the distinction of being the only state qualifier in school history and will finish her prep career next month at the state meet, having already met the qualifying standard in three events.
As a junior, Shepard finished fourth at state in the 100-yard backstroke and ninth in the 100 butterfly. She spent her sophomore season swimming with her club team, coached by her father, Seth, a former Iowa State swimmer, after making the state meet as a freshman.
“Arabella is an incredibly well-rounded swimmer — I can enter her in any event in a high school meet and she’ll do incredibly well,” said VSU Coach Ashley Hesson. “She is incredibly versatile — but more than that, she is willing to swim anything the team needs. It may not always be the event she wants to swim, but she does it without complaint because she understands it’s what the team needs.”
Shepard’s impact on the Viking program goes beyond the pool. She is a mentor to her teammates and often transports them to and from practice.
“Arabella gives a great deal to this team out of the pool, too,” Hesson said. “She takes on the jobs no one else wants and stays to work with her teammates when everyone else has gone home. She’s an incredible swimmer, but she’s an incredible young woman, as well.”
Shepard attends Union, meaning she has to drive back and forth to Vinton for practices. Her accomplishments are even more amazing due to limited facilities.
“We’re thankful for the facilities that we have because without our little four-lane, 20-yard pool, we wouldn’t have a swim program at all,” Hesson said. “We get creative with what we’ve got, and Arabella is proof of what can be done when you put your mind to it.”
In an time when athletes often move to bigger schools for a competitive edge, Shepard said she never considered leaving.
“I prefer a small team,” she said. “I like to know each of my girls.”
Shepard might end up swimming in college.
“I plan on going to Hawkeye Community College (in Waterloo) and they don’t have a swim team,” she said. “My dad and I are actually trying to create a team at Hawkeye.”
With all she has already accomplished, don’t bet against Shepard becoming the face of yet another program.