Lebo’s Schilken hums a winning tune in and out of the water

Published Jan 27, 2014 at 2:48 pm (Updated Jan 27, 2014 at 2:48 pm)

As she swims lap after lap in practice, Meghan Schilken hums catchy tunes from popular musicals in her head. Sometimes, the Mt. Lebanon senior frets over that physics problem or computes a math equation. She may even draft in her head that Shakespeare paper that is due for Margaret Davidson’s literature lesson.

“If I’m in a good mood, I sing,” said the daughter of Dr. Robert and Dolores Schilken. “If it has been a bad day, I try to do my homework.”

Either approach produces winning results in and out of the water. For Schilken is a multi-All-America swimmer, who has garnered many medals and awards at the district and state level. She is also an actress, who performs with two theater companies, as well as a vocalist, who croons the national anthem before every meet. Schilken is also a National Honor Society member, who possesses a 4.8 GPA.

“Meghan is an amazing young lady. I can’t say enough about her,” said Mt. Lebanon swim coach Tom Donati. “She is much more than a swimmer.

“She embodies the meaning of student athlete. If you look up the definition at the NCAA level, then this is Meghan. She truly is a student who wants to continue to learn and strive to reach her goals both academically and in athletics.”

Because she yearns to follow in the footsteps of her father, an orthopedic surgeon, and her mother, a registered nurse, and become a physician, Schilken selected the College of William & Mary to pursue her goals. In addition to her liberal arts studies, she will swim for the Tribe.

“I grew up with two parents in the medical field and that engulfed my life. I remember people always calling and coming over and my dad working on neighbor kids in the living room, wrapping up sprains or putting a cast on broken bones. I want to do that. I want to help people like my parents do.”

William & Mary offered Schilken the best place to start her career. She picked the school located in Williamsburg, Va., over the University of Pittsburgh, where her father played football for the Panthers, as well as Ivy League schools such as Brown, Penn and Dartmouth.

“Pitt has a good program for medical school and there was a comfort level being at home, but in the end it was too close,” she explained. Besides she added, “I always told people I wanted to go to a school that was on a beach. William & Mary is the warmest school.”

After a slight chuckle, Schilken mentioned how Matt Crispino and his wife, Liz Koch, a former Lebo swimmer, factored into her choice. “Coach (Crispino) had done his research. He knew who I was and told me exactly what I would be doing and the training I would do to get much better.”

In a top-10 ranked recruiting class, Schilken is slated to swim the 100-yard backstroke as well as the 200-yard freestyle. Searching for a third event, she’s leaning toward another backstroke race, likely at the 200 distance.

“My favorite race is the 100 back. I love to sprint. If they had a 50 back, I would do that. It never gets old going fast.”

Being part of a clan never gets old for Schilken either. She noted William & Mary’s nickname contributed to her decision. “They’re called the Tribe for a reason. The swimmers had an overwhelming sense of team unity and support for each other. One big family,” she said. “It’s like that at Lebo, especially my senior year, I sense it. We’re making an impact and an impression.”

At the early age of 5, Schilken so impressed then Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club coach Don Wagner that he placed her with the Piranahas, saying encouragingly, ‘you can do this’ and when she entered high school, then head coach Dave Schraven sat her and Katie Ford down and explained their roles.

“(Coach Schraven) said, ‘I know you guys are freshman and you are afraid, but you two have to step up.’”

Because she played volleyball and swam her first two years of high school, Schilken did not really step up until her junior year. She knew that if she was serious about swimming at the college level, she had to quit that added sport. “I really needed to buckle down,” she said.

The results are evident. Schilken owns the pool record in the 100 backstroke and shares the leaderboard with Veronica Bogdanski, Hannah Bumgarnder and Katie Ford for the 400 freestyle relay. Schilken is a two-time WPIAL silver medalist in the backstroke. And, in her first year of swimming the 200 free, finished fourth in the WPIAL in 2013. She was an eighth-place winner at states in the back.

“Meg is a leader,” said Donati. “She has high goals in the pool and in life, and she will continue to adjust those goals as she grows in life.”

Her immediate goals to do her best during the WPIAL finals set for Feb. 28-March 1 at the University of Pittsburgh Trees Pool as well as the PIAA championships set for March 12-15 at Bucknell University are obvious.

“The goals are always to do well at the WPIAL and PIAA meets, but to win the 100 backstroke would be awesome,” she said. “I’ve been on the podium at districts and states for three years, but my goal is to place better at the state level.”

Swimming side-by-side with Ford for four years has helped Schilken progress. Ford owns Lebo team records for the 50 free and 100 back and pool marks for the 50, 100 and 200 free as well as the 200 IM. She is bound for North Carolina.

“Katie and I are definitely friends,” Schilken said. “Since freshman year, we have been the face of Lebo swimming. It’s been awesome. It’s been great having Katie here. We’re always in lane 4 together and training together. It’s nice to have your best friend and your biggest competition next to you and training at the same level.”

While at Lebo, Schilken has reached the All-America level each year. She achieved the standard times for two events in Junior Nationals and she’s a regular Sectional qualifier. But, out of the water, and on a bigger stage, Schilken has few peers. Because swimming typically interferes with auditions and practices for the high school musical, Schilken taps her acting abilities by performing with the school’s accredited Evening Theater Company. To qualify, she had to complete eight semesters of theater classes. ETC performs two dramas a year. Schilken has also performed at Billy Hartung’s Center for Theater Arts. Plus, she sings in the high school concert choir.

“Singing and swimming are polar opposites. I’m not to sure there could be two completely distinct and different things, but I have always been interested in the arts.

While swimming is quite physical and disciplined, Schilken embraces the theater for its openness and lightheartedness. “Theater is an instinctive thing and you are open to ideas. Besides, it’s fun to play somebody else or be in another’s shoes. I know most people see the world behind the blocks. They wonder how the girls with the big shoulders and the determined face can also be the same one who is acting and singing.”

Schilken makes it all work because of the lessons learned in the classroom. While not a fan of history, she is a champion of her social studies instructor. She credits Peter Dinardo, who taught her junior A.P. course, for the early admission to William & Mary.

“(Mr. Dinardo’s) class was such a learning experience. He makes you do at least five papers so you have to plan ahead and manage your time. It was the hardest because it made you really grow up and take responsibility. It’s on you,” said Schilken. “He was a true confidant. He wrote one of my recommendations. He advised me to go to William & Mary and do the early decision. He said, ‘look what they have to offer. This is the place for you. Do it for yourself.’ And I’m glad I did.”

Meghan Schilken

Parents: Dr. Robert & Dolores

School: Mt. Lebanon

Year: Senior

Sport: Swimming

Activities: Evening Theater Company, Center For Theater Arts, National Honor Society, Cum Laude Society candidate.

Achievements: All-American, four years. Junior National and Sectional qualifier. Two pool records. 2013 WPIAL silver medalist in 100-yard backstroke, fourth-place finisher in 200 free. PIAA placewinner.

GPA: 4.8

College choice: William & Mary

Major: Pre-medicine

Favorite classes: A.P. History and Literature

Favorite teachers: Pete Dinardo and Margaret Davidson

Favorite color: Yellow

Songs you’d sing in the shower: “Tale as Old As Time” from “Beauty and the Beast” and “Popular” from “Wicked”

Dream role: Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” or Glinda, the good witch from the “Wizard of Oz” or the musical “Wicked”

What you’d like to do, if you didn’t plan to be a doctor: Dress up as the character Belle at Disney World.

Candy choice: Peanut butter meltaway

Veggie: Red Peppers

Favorite food: Chocolate cake

Best eats: Cheesecake Factory

Person with whom you’d like to have dinner: Walt Disney. “What he created is amazing. You always remember your first trip to Disney World and meeting Mickey Mouse. Mr. Disney has brought a sense of joy and happiness to so many people. You don’t see anywhere else.”

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