Annie O’Shea spends her workday riding a small sled down a frozen track at speeds up to 90 mph. Her skeleton sled has no brakes and she maneuvers it on her stomach headfirst, meaning her face is just millimeters from the ice.
Yet O’Shea, 28, considers herself anything but a daredevil.
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“It’s true. I’m afraid of so many things,” said O’Shea, who on Jan. 8 in Lake Placid became the first American woman skeleton racer in nearly two years to win a World Cup event.
O’Shea, who grew up in Port Jefferson Station and won the state pentathlon championship for Comsewogue High School in 2004, is ranked No. 7 in the world in skeleton. The U.S. National Team’s top-ranked member began competition Friday in another World Cup event, in Park City, Utah. All of which is pretty amazing for an athlete whose knowledge of winter sports growing up was limited to occasionally sledding on Long Island golf courses.
“She didn’t even like that,” said her mother, Linda O’Shea, who still lives in Port Jefferson. “She always had to be sitting up. It’s pretty funny when you think about it.”
Though some may joke that the sport is called skeleton because that’s what competitors risk injuring if they make a mistake, the sport got its name because early sled frames bore a vague resemblance to a skeleton. Racers compete on the same track as luge and bobsledders. The ice-covered run usually drops the sleds several hundred feet with huge banking turns that must be navigated at progressively higher speeds.
O’Shea, who is 5-foot-5 and weighs 132 pounds, said she is afraid of most extreme sports like rock climbing and zip lining, but gets an almost peaceful feeling when she is hurtling down a course at the speed of a freight train.
“Sometimes when you’re going really fast, it’s weird to explain, your brain just takes over and slows everything down,” she said. “It’s surreal.”
O’Shea was introduced to the sport the summer before her senior year at Comsewogue while competing in track and field events at the 2004 Empire State games. She recalled how her mom and her dad, John O’Shea, were approached by James Daly, the father of skeleton racer John Daly, in the parking lot.
“He started talking to my parents about skeleton racing and how he thought I might like it,” O’Shea said. “I don’t ski, and I really didn’t watch the Winter Games in 2002. I didn’t know anything about it. But my mom did, and she got all excited. They convinced me to go to a camp and try it out.”
Three years later, O’Shea made the World Cup team. She now lives full time at the Olympic training center in Lake Placid, traveling with the team to compete in World Cup events.
O’Shea has a bachelor of science degree in sports management and wellness and fitness from California University of Pennsylvania and is pursuing her MBA in international business from the Keller Graduate School of Management.
The victory in Lake Placid was considered a major breakthrough for O’Shea, who previously averaged finishes of 13th place. Her only previous first-place medal on the circuit came more than four years ago.
Since then, she said, she had been battling to come back from a knee injury and said her struggles were mental as well as physical.
Last summer she enlisted the help of a life coach.
“I learned how to separate sports and everyday life,” O’Shea said. “I felt this burden lifted. I’ve learned to not put a number on my goals. My goals are to walk away every day from training and racing feeling good about what I’ve accomplished.”
O’Shea is one of those competitors who likes to live in the present, so she didn’t want to talk about her goals or chances of making the 2018 Olympic team that will compete in Pyeongchang, South Korea. According to head skeleton coach Tuffy Latour, however, O’Shea is putting herself in a good position.
“I would say she’s doing all the right things to prepare herself for 2018,” Latour said. “Absolutely.”