October 8, 2009
Nobody tells Team USA member Shannon O'Keefe that she cannot do something. Nobody. And if you think it is easy to tell her otherwise, you try it.
"As soon as you try to tell me that there is something I can't do, I will do it until I prove you wrong," the 2007 Women's World Champion explains.
One person who proudly considers himself proven wrong these days is Shannon O'Keefe's father, a former pro bowler himself who one day dared to suggest that bowling was not exactly Shannon's strong suit when, a 16-year-old softball player who batted .411 as a freshman and finished among the top 160 women at the 1996 U.S. Olympic softball team trials, she took an interest in joining her brother on the lanes one day. But not before getting started in the rather inconspicuous confines of a Dick's Sporting Goods store, and a conversation with her father that she will never forget.
"My little brother started bowling, so I went to watch him one day and there were these cute boys," O'Keefe explains with a coy roll of the eyes. "So I figured I'd bowl the last couple months of league with him. My Dad took me to Dick's and let me pick out a ball. It was all about color - it had to be pretty."
Even the career of a future gold-medalist has its pedestrian origins. For Shannon, it was a teal plastic ball bought out of a sporting goods store. But as any teenage girl will surely agree, you just don't go out in public with a new bowling ball unless you have a pair of shoes to match. Unfortunately for Shannon, however, her father begged to differ - a disagreement in which a future champion was born.
"Then we get into the bowling center and he is making me rent these nasty shoes," O'Keefe continues. "I am looking in the pro shop and see these Linds shoes - they had the white shoes with the teal toe, and I remember my Dad saying 'Honey, I am not spending 150 bucks on shoes so you can look cute.' I said 'I have to have them - you don't understand!' He repeated himself and said 'In a sport that you're not even any good at.' I said 'Excuse me?' He said 'You're not a bowler, you're a softball player.' I thought 'You don't think I can be any good at this?' He told me I was just doing it to chase boys."
With husband and USBC Coaching Specialist Bryan O'Keefe in her corner as both partner and coach, any boy-chasing days Shannon may have experienced are well behind her now. As for finding the money for those white Linds shoes with the teal toe, though, those, too quickly found their place in the category of things that people told Shannon she could not do.
"I did get them," Shannon says. "I paid for them later on my own."
That defiance has produced many additional treasures since that 16-year-old beginner picked out a pair of pricey shoes at a pro shop one day. Just three years later, she was a 19-year-old runner-up for Rookie of the Year on the PWBA Tour who would soon shoot a televised 299 and tie Ryan Shafer and Pete Weber for the most consecutive strikes ever thrown on TV at the time - 18 in a row.
Somewhere along the way, though, Shannon O'Keefe learned that getting what you want sometimes means losing what you have. What Shannon had was a full-ride softball scholarship that would have put her through college, the need to move 3,000 miles away from her family to be with her husband and coach, and a softball team that she was terrified of letting down.
"I was terrified to tell my coaches," O'Keefe explains of her decision to give up her full-ride softball scholarship. "I hate letting people down. I knew they would be disappointed, and that tore me up."
But with a chest of medals from international competition, a win at the Women's World Championships in 2007, making Team USA in her first attempt in 2005 and remaining with the team each following year, and finishing runner up at the 2007 Women's U.S. Open, it is safe to assume that none of her former softball teammates begrudge her these days for following her dream. But that does not mean that Shannon O'Keefe is done checking off items on that list of things that others might dare suggest she cannot do - a modest collection of ambitions including "winning all the majors, and being on Team USA for ten years."
As for the father who once dared to doubt her? "He is one of my best friends," Shannon says. "He has been with me on this journey from day one. To have somebody in your corner with you like that, I am very blessed."