Greece bowler strikes it big; She didn't get started until age 16 By Jim Mandelaro


    United States

    Republished courtesy of Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester, NY, USA (Oct. 11, 2007)

     Shannon O'Keefe's adventures in bowling started innocently enough — as a way to meet boys and secure some awesome shoes.

    But a funny thing happened along the way: The former softball pitching phenom became hooked on her new hobby.

    Shannon O'Keefe, 28, who has bowled 18 300-games in her lifetime, will compete on Sunday with three others for the U.S. Women's Open title and the $25,000 first prize. ESPN will air the event live. Photo: Katharine Sidelnik.
    Click on the image to enlarge it.

    She quit softball and took up bowling. She stopped throwing strikes and started throwing ... strikes.

    "It came naturally," she said. "Bowling made it easy to walk away from softball."

    She was so good that she joined the Professional Women's Bowling Association in 1999, when she was only 20. She left the tour two years later, moved to Rochester and married Bryan O'Keefe, a Wayne Central graduate who was starring on the men's amateur tour.

    These days, Shannon is a quiet star in a sport that receives little fanfare. She is a member of Team USA and recently won a gold medal at the World Tenpin Bowling Association Women's World in Monterrey, Mexico — only the second American woman to do so.

    On Sunday, she'll compete with three others for the U.S. Women's Open title in Reno, Nev., live on ESPN.

    "I know I'm biased," her husband said, "but I think she's one of the top five women's bowlers in the world."

    He's not the only one praising O'Keefe.

    "She is very good," said Kathy O'Neill, a Cardinal Mooney graduate and classic league bowler since 1980. "Shannon is quite the fierce competitor. I think she relishes the competition and stays on track with her own game."

    O'Neill met O'Keefe, 28, on the pro tour several years ago and has been impressed by the latter's speedy improvement.

    "Her arm swing is strong yet fluent, with great balance going toward the foul line," she said. "Her eyes never leave the target. Go figure: She and Abby Wambach are about the same age."

    The O'Keefes have made their home in Greece the past seven years and are Bills season ticketholders with PBA Bowler of the Year Doug Kent of Newark and his wife, Chrissie.

    The upstate days are coming to an end, however. The O'Keefes have secured jobs with the U.S. Bowling Congress and are moving to Milwaukee in a few weeks.

    Bryan will work in the coaching department. Shannon will trade in her job as a bank sales associate to focus on international relations for the USBC, with a trip to Russia her first week on the job.

    O'Keefe has been competing in the U.S. Open for the past few months. Her qualifying win from August over Olivia Sandham of Wichita, Kan., was shown last Sunday on ESPN. O'Keefe bowled a 299, one pin shy of a perfect game.

    This Sunday, she'll compete for the $25,000 first prize at the U.S. Open with Lynda Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, the reigning U.S. amateur champion and wife of PBA superstar Chris Barnes; Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga; and Carolyn Dorin-Ballard of North Richland Hills, Texas.

    The original field was 132.

    "It's going to be amazing," O'Keefe said of the 90-minute telecast.

    She has enjoyed her share of amazing performances, with 18 300-games to her credit. Her first came when she was 18, just 1 ½ years after taking up the sport.

    Her high series is 824. Not bad for someone who happened upon the sport by chance.

    "I was all into softball," said O'Keefe, who earned All-America honors at Portland State. "But my little brother bowled in a league, and one day our softball practice was rained out. I went to pick him up, got there early and saw some really cute boys."

    Faster than anyone can say "Earl Anthony," she signed up for her brother's league "to flirt with the boys."

    The sport came naturally to the right-hander.

    "I'm very athletic," she said. "Things come to me very easily. I played volleyball in high school and was able to take up golf, too."

    There was one thing O'Keefe didn't like about bowling: the ugly rental shoes.

    "I told my father, 'I have to have cute shoes.' And he said 'I'm not going to buy you shoes for something you're not good at.'"

    That did it.

    "I don't like people telling me I can't do something," O'Keefe said.

    She had developed tendinitis in her shoulder in high school and switched to center field in college. But the pain remained intense.

    "In college, they work you so hard," said O'Keefe, whose maiden name is Rondeau. "They kick the crap out of you. My knees started bothering me, too, and my shoulder was going numb.

    "I was falling apart at 19. I thought, 'Someday, I'm not going to be able to pick up my kids.'" Bowling was a kinder, gentler alternative for her body. She met Bryan in 1999, and he became her coach and mentor.

    "She was really willing to work at it," said Bryan, 33, who runs the pro shop at Empire Lanes in Webster.

    "She's always been the most athletic woman I've ever known, and she's very competitive. She hates losing and doesn't let things rattle her."

    Shannon's highest finish on the pro tour was 10th. She bowls "for fun" in a women's league at Gates Bowl on Wednesdays and for money most weekends across the nation.

    Growing up, O'Keefe's dream was to participate in the Olympics. She tried out for the United States softball team that competed in the 1996 Atlanta Games when she was only 15 and made it to the final 60.

    One of her goals in her new job is to help make bowling an Olympic sport.

    "It would be a dream come true," she said. "I think it can be done, too."

    Who's to doubt her now?