VALPARAISO | It must have felt a little like her own family life.
The Wheeler girls and boys track teams were practicing together late last week and girls coach Ben Kosal was having them run 200-meter sprints in a line, one runner after another and fastest leaving the line last to push them to catch the others.
Senior Kelly O’Shea and her younger brother, Joel, were at the back, with eight teammates in front of them, kind of like having six older brothers and sisters.
Why were they in the back?
“Because they’re the fastest,” Kosal said.
And despite running four sprints already with just a couple minutes rest in between, Kelly still passed seven of the eight runners in front of her by the end of the fifth sprint. Joel passed one more than his sister — of course, it was her.
Kelly was quite OK with that since she’s a team player and gets along with Joel very well. That’s not too surprising since they are separated by two grades and part of nine O’Shea children.
“We cheer each other on,” Kelly said. “We’re really close and spend a lot of time together.”
Even Kosal notices as he added to Kelly’s statement jokingly with, “You guys eat lunch together, right? Do you shoulder bump in the halls when you pass each other?”
Yes, the O’Shea family is quite large, and the house was very crowded for a few years. It ranges from Daniel, the youngest in fifth grade, to Michael, the oldest at 29 years. In between there’s Charlotte (28), Maggie (26), Catie (25), forner Mount Carmel hockey player Tony (23) and former Wheeler quarterback Sam (21). Some remedial math tells you that mom, Joni, and dad, Michael (who was the oldest sibling in a family of eight children), had all nine kids in the same house for a while starting around 11 years ago. Now only five live at home, but the holidays are still quite fun.
“It’s just a great time at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and Fourth of July is a blast,” Kelly said. “I like coming from a big family. Your family is so important and they’ll always be there for you.”
That attitude carries over into athletics. Kelly and Joel are the ultimate teammates that Kosal loves to have as an example to others.
“I’d say 99 percent of the kids complain in general,” Kosal said, referring specifically to the grueling 200 sprints from practice. “Kelly and Joel really don’t. They were raised to be hard workers and take life as it comes at them.”
In the spring, that means Kelly gets to compete in her favorite type of running after doing the distance variety in fall cross country.
“Sprinting is my forte,” said Kelly, who also reached the cross country semistate in the fall. “I think I’m better at mid-distance events.”
She was a state finalist in the 800 run last spring, posting her personal best time on the big stage at Indiana University with 2:18 to finish 17th.
“I think I run better against better competition,” she said.
She’s on target to equal or better that this season, posting a 2:19 in an 800-meter split in the 3,299 relay last week. Her 800 time this season is ranked No. 3 in the regional. She’s also competing in the 1,600 relay and the goal is to return to state in three events this year.
“I have no doubt Kelly can do anything she puts her mind to,” Kosal said.