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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Through illness and injury, O’Shea prospers

O’Shea: ‘I wouldn’t change anything’
NIU sophomore gymnast Kiera O’Shea is introduced ahead of the first session of the semifinals round of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional on Thursday at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas. O’Shea made her NCAA Regional debut Thursday after battling sickness and injuries during her first two years as a college gymnast. (Courtesy of Meaghan Frazier)

Sophomore gymnast Kiera O’Shea was standing in line March 2 at Jeni’s Ice Creams in Raleigh, North Carolina, waiting to place her order – a scoop of chocolate sheet cake and a scoop of salted peanut butter, adorned with a waffle chip.

As she and senior Alyssa Al-Ashari stood in their preferred spot at the back of the line – so as to enjoy their frozen confections on the bus – the latter brought up the prospects of regional qualification. 

“We were just talking and I was like, ‘Kiera, like, you know, we might be getting this at regionals if we both make it,’” Al-Ashari said.

One month later, both gymnasts have qualified to compete as individuals in the 2024 NCAA Regionals. O’Shea completed the first regionals appearance of her young college career on Thursday after scoring a 9.825 in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional. But her journey to this point hasn’t been as sweet as the treat she enjoyed that March night.

Before O’Shea could even step foot onto NIU’s campus as a freshman in August 2022, she began a battle with her own body.


“I had (an illness) the day before I was supposed to move in,” O’Shea said. “I got super sick, so I wasn’t even able to move in  on our supposed day, so my parents moved me in while I stayed at home.”

Throughout her first semester of college, O’Shea dealt with bouts of bodily fatigue and experienced swollen lymph nodes and tonsils.

“It was just an ongoing cycle of the same sickness, having to go to urgent care,” O’Shea said.

With each visit to urgent care, O’Shea was tested for infections like strep throat and mononucleosis, as well as COVID-19 using a throat culture. Each test returned negative results for all of the above.

“They could never figure out what was wrong, so I would go on antibiotics,” O’Shea. “Those would stop, and I would get (sick) like a week later.”

The recurring symptoms of O’Shea’s still-unidentified ailment often limited her ability to participate in fall practices.

“That preseason was definitely really rough,” O’Shea said. “Obviously, I wasn’t able to contribute a lot freshman year because of that. I just wasn’t ready.”

Even with the setbacks she faced so early into her college career, O’Shea kept the joking, bubbly attitude that helps her connect with the teammates she missed the early stages of bonding with.

“She’s somebody that I can talk to even though she’s only a sophomore,” Al-Ashari said. “She’s two years younger than me, but we have a lot in common. She has a good head on her shoulders, so it’s nice to just talk about life or gymnastics with her.”


O’Shea’s cycle of sickness eventually subsided during the winter break, allowing her to make her college debut on Jan. 8, 2023, in NIU’s season opener against Bowling Green State University.

O’Shea competed on vault in 11 of NIU’s 12 meets as a freshman. She was one of three freshmen, along with Hannah Drielick and Samantha Nickle, to earn a starting lineup spot all season.

O’Shea was named NIU’s freshman of the year that season after posting the team’s third-highest national qualifying score in vault of 9.780. Her season-best vault score of 9.875 was NIU’s highest vault score of the season.

But O’Shea expected better. She wanted to be ready for next season.

“I knew I needed to work hard, and I need to push myself to where I wanted to be,” O’Shea said.


That summer, O’Shea spent time in the gym working with NIU’s coaching staff, as well as her club coaches, Michael and Morgan Regula, at All Around Gymnastics in Bensenville.

Part of O’Shea’s offseason development focused on her mastery of the Yurchenko one-and-a-half, a skill that comes with a 10.000 start value. Before this season, O’Shea hadn’t attempted the skill since her junior year at Ridgewood Community High School.

O’Shea introduced the move into official competition during NIU’s second road meet at the Tennessee Collegiate Classic on Jan. 19. She scored a 9.900 to set a new career-high on vault and tie the fourth-best score in team history.

Not long after, O’Shea suffered an injury that threatened to cut her promising sophomore season short.


During the downtime between NIU’s first two home meets on Jan. 28 and Feb. 9, O’Shea injured her left wrist, causing her to be sidelined on vault for two meets.

“Vault is all about being on your hands and off your hands, and then swinging bars, too, with the grip squeezing in that spot,” said NIU gymnastics head coach Sam Morreale. “It’s trying to manage numbers to make sure we’re going to do enough, but not enough to really aggravate that (injury).”

Within the last five meets she competed, O’Shea matched her personal best twice before beating it at the 2024 MAC Championships on March 23. O’Shea scored a 9.925, tying the program record, to split the MAC vault title with Kent State University sophomore Nastia Rudnitskaya.

As the prospects of being a regional qualifier became more likely, O’Shea would check her placement in national vault standings from time to time, but never enough to let it get to her head.

“It’s really cool to see,” O’Shea said. “But also, whatever is meant to happen will happen, and whatever work I put in, the outcome will be there.”

With the end of her sophomore year drawing near, O’Shea is satisfied with the work she’s put in to accomplish what she has, considering the circumstances.

“I wouldn’t change anything,” O’Shea said. “I just want to keep growing and keep going in the uphill trend.”

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