Shannon O’Keefe is the anti-Lebowski.
When she checks her bowling bag for a flight someone almost always tells her that she doesn’t look like a bowler. Ms. O’Keefe’s response: “What does a bowler look like?”
“The stereotype is that bowlers are out of shape and drink beer, like the Dude,” she says, referring to
famous fictional slob in “The Big Lebowski.”
“If you’re a pro, that’s not going to get the job done. I’ve always labeled myself an athlete.”
Known for her signature skort, headband, and charcoal-lined eyes, Ms. O’Keefe, 38, has the hardware to back up that claim. She’s won six titles on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour, including one major championship, and is also a 13-time member of the U.S. national bowling team. She says coaching the women’s team at McKendree University, a Division II school in Lebanon, Ill., and the defending NCAA champion, keeps her at the top of her game. “I do the same workouts they do,” she says.
Fast-pitch softball was once Ms. O’Keefe’s sport of choice. She was a first-team All-America center fielder at Portland State University, but developed shoulder tendinitis at the end of her freshman season. “My entire arm would go numb trying to throw the ball to the infield,” she says. Throwing overhand was painful, but underhand didn’t bother her.
Ms. O’Keefe’s father bowled professionally on a regional circuit and worked part time at a bowling alley. “I had no interest in the sport,” she says of her early teenage years. “I thought the rental shoes were disgusting.” When she was 16 she went to watch her brother’s bowling league. “That’s when I discovered there were cute boys that bowled, so I joined a league.” After leaving college early, she went on tour with the PWBA in 1999.
At its simplest form, bowling is a sport where you stay behind a line and try to knock over pins. At the highest level, Ms. O’Keefe says, it’s a game of physics. “You need to think about ball speed, angles, axis tilt and how to manipulate and change them based on how the ball reacts in a lane,” she says. “To compete professionally, it’s important that you can repeat your shots. Being physically strong helps prevent muscle fatigue.”
Ms. O’Keefe has a grueling schedule. Coaching begins in late August and the collegiate season begins in October and ends in April. She competes all summer on the PWBA Tour.
“In a typical week I practice Monday and Tuesday, travel to an event Wednesday, practice at an event Thursday, compete Friday and Saturday and travel home Sunday,” she says. “It’s a lot of sacrifice. I can’t tell you the last time my husband and I took a vacation.”
Luckily, her husband,
is McKendree’s director of bowling. He convinced her to take time off after the 2017 World Bowling Championships in Las Vegas and spend a bowling-free week in Jamaica this month.
Hourlong, twice weekly workouts with her team begin with a dynamic warm-up, including walking lunges and high knees, and core activation drills, like trunk rotations. Speed and agility drills focus on lower-level moves, such as box jumps, or multilateral moves, like single leg jumps in different directions.
Strength training includes squats, lunges, barbell cleans and bench press. Conditioning might include resisted sled pushes and high-intensity drills at the start of the week and lower-intensity cardio on the second day.
She estimates that she’s on her feet 12 hours a day during a tournament and runs to build endurance. “I tell the team I want my legs to be fit like
,” she jokes.
Bowlers often have physical imbalances between their left and right sides, Ms. O’Keefe says. “I’m right-handed, so I throw with my right hand and finish on my left leg. I routinely go to the chiropractor to help keep everything aligned. Everything I do in my workouts is to help keep my body strength as even as possible on both sides.”
“I drink so much coffee, I’m never hungry in the morning,” Ms. O’Keefe says. She makes herself have a high-protein meal replacement shake mixed with almond milk at home or regular milk on the road. Lunch might be a salad or tomato or chicken noodle soup. Dinner is lean protein with vegetables and a starch.
She doesn’t like to compete with a full stomach, so on competition days she snacks on raw almonds, apples or Nature Valley Oats ’n Honey bars. “On tour, there aren’t a lot of places that are open late, so you end up at a fast-food spot exhausted and don’t make the right choices,” she says.
She gained 9 pounds while on the road this summer, but lost it over the course of two months back home. Mexican food is her weakness. “I was just in Houston with the team and the girls wanted Chili’s,” she says. “I ordered the grilled chicken salad and just smelled their chips and salsa.”
The Gear & Cost
Ms. O’Keefe is sponsored by DV8 Bowling and estimates she has about 90 bowling balls in her garage.
She designed a skort, a skirt with shorts underneath, with sponsor High 5 Gear. “I’m an athletic bowler and have a deep knee bend, so I can’t be restricted,” she says. She wears Dexter bowling shoes with insoles.
“I listen to a lot of Christian music, and the ‘Rocky IV’ soundtrack is my go-to for running,” she says.
Work to Keep Your Muscles in Balance
Repetitive movements can often lead to muscular imbalances, says Shawn Arent, director of the Center for Health and Human Performance at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. Most people favor a dominant side when they swing a golf club or throw a ball. Some sports favor certain muscle groups.
“Rowing is back-dominant,” Dr. Arent says. “It engages a lot of pulling muscles, so you’d want to work pushing muscles such as the anterior deltoids and pecs.” Cycling is quad-dominant, he says, so working hamstring strength in addition to the glutes is important.
Even sitting at your desk can create muscular imbalance, which often causes low-back pain, he says. “When we sit, the hips are flexed and the glutes stretched,” he says. “This shortens the area from the abs to the quads. Break the pattern by standing every so often and doing a quad stretch.”
Dr. Arent says in most cases, a well-rounded resistance program can help keep the body in balance. “Think about the muscles used in your sport of choice and the stabilizing muscles you need to work to pull you back in line so you don’t overcompensate,” he says. He suggests meeting with a strength coach to help figure out the right balancing act.
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