Darius Shelton has always loved a good thrill.
As a kid, he enjoyed jumping off the top of the slide rather than coasting down it. At the amusement park, he would seek out the steepest drops and fastest speeds.
So, it came as no surprise to many who know him that he jumped headfirst at the opportunity to try a new extreme sport – literally. The 23-year-old Carmel resident has begun training with some of the nation’s top athletes in skeleton, a sliding sport that sends riders atop a sled down an icy chute at speeds that can reach 90 mph or faster.
“It’s like being on a roller coaster without any safety belts or anything,” Shelton said. “(It’s) a risk that I could fall on the ice. I could crash anywhere. It’s an adrenaline rush, basically.”
One that must be well contained, as a wrong move could lead to a painful encounter with the wall. But as a lifelong athlete, Shelton has developed the confidence and poise needed to embrace a hobby that’s not for the faint of heart.
‘Just another event’
Shelton, the fifth of six children in his family, grew up in Carmel, becoming a sprinter on the Carmel High School track team. After graduating in 2018, he continued his athletic career at Marian University, where a coach noticed his versatility and encouraged him to try decathlon, which pits competitors against each other in 10 track and field events.
He earned degrees in psychology and graphic design and studied abroad at Leeds Beckett University in England to study for his master’s degree in psychology and compete for the school’s track and field team. While overseas he realized he had reached a crossroads in his athletic career but wasn’t ready to stop competing. So, he created an athlete profile online and was recruited to consider giving sledding events a try.
Shelton was aware of the sports but knew little about them when he decided to apply for the program. Training for decathlon, however, had made him a bit of an expert in trying various athletic endeavors.
“This new sport is just another event, basically,” he said. “It’s something I can go tackle and learn from it. I’ll have a few bumps and bruises, but at the end of the day knowing myself and my character that I’ll be really good at it eventually.”
Soon, he received word that his skills seemed a good match and was invited to train with USA Bobsled/Skeleton, the national governing body for those two events. It went well, so he was invited to Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the 1980 Olympic games, where he took to the ice for the first time. Coaches determined he was too light to compete in bobsled, so they put him on a skeleton sled, and the training invites kept coming.
Set to return to Lake Placid at the end of the month, Shelton balances his training with his job as an instructional assistant at CHS. Amy Skeens-Benton, CHS assistant principal, suggested to Shelton that he apply for a job at his alma mater when he mentioned to her at a Greyhound football game that he was struggling to find a position that would work around his out-of-state training schedule.
Skeens-Benton said Shelton’s athletic background seems a great fit for his new sport, and his psychology degree and demeanor make him an ideal IA, a role that – for Shelton – includes helping students keep up with schoolwork and manage through difficult situations.
“He’s such a positive role model, especially being a CHS grad,” Skeens-Benton said. “Our students are really connecting with him, and we’ve seen an improvement in the students that he’s working with that we hadn’t seen until he got here. It’s just been a win-win for everybody.”
Eyes on the Olympics
Although he’s only been training for skeleton since September 2023, Shelton has his eyes on the sport’s top prize.
“The ultimate goal is chasing the Olympics, representing Team USA,” he said.
First, however, he’s hoping to work his way into competing in the North American Cup and World Cup. He’s still early in the process, but is thankful to train with veterans of the sport during his trips to New York and Utah.
Shelton knows his new endeavor is one most people never get the chance to try. He’s thankful to have discovered the opportunity and what he’s learned about himself along the way.
“When I’m on a course and I’m riding, it’s all silent, basically,” he said. “Everything else you’re thinking about just goes away. It’s almost like freedom.”
Meet Darius Shelton
Occupation: Instructional assistant at Carmel High School
Favorite musical artist: Juice WRLD
Early bird or night owl: Night owl
Dream vacation spot: Bahamas
Favorite athlete: Sydney McLaughlin
Least favorite food: Spinach
Something most people don’t know about him: I like to contribute to helping every individual I run into have growth in whatever they desire.
Life motto: “Believe in the run” – no matter how you start off. believe that things will keep better as you push forward