St. Francis sophomore Shea Mahoney sacrifices a lot to pursue a career in gymnastics.
Long daily drives, often through traffic, from her home in Algonquin to St. Francis High School. Next is a short commute to Legacy Elite Gymnastics in Carol Stream, where she often spends an average of 30 hours per week training year-round.
Mahoney nearly made a bigger sacrifice in March 2012, when she felt under the weather right before the eighth-grade Illinois state meet.
"The night before the Illinois state meet I got very sick," Mahoney said. "I thought it was just a bad case of the flu. A week later, I wasn't getting any better. They took a lot of tests and finally figured out my appendix ruptured."
Mahoney took three months off from training for a sport that demands grueling daily sessions and requires extreme technical skill and elite conditioning to reach the highest levels.
One year later, Mahoney sits inside Legacy Elite Gymnastics, where she's trained the last three years, sporting a big smile after capping a successful year with a dominant performance in the 2013 Women's U.S. Junior Olympic National Championships in Minneapolis in May.
"It's incredible because last year I was wondering if I could come back from this injury," she said. "I came into this season thinking that this is a blessing, a gift and let's have fun."
Mahoney, a Level 10 competitor, regarded as the highest level in the Junior Olympic program but just under the elite level, earned a bronze in the all-around at the 2013 Junior Olympic National Championships. She won a gold medal in the floor exercise, with her performance earning her a spot on the U.S. Junior Olympic National Team.
"I think what happened with injury last year really humbled me a lot," Mahoney said. "I worked hard but had a lot of fun."
Mahoney added another chapter to her stellar season by recently orally committing to be a gymnast for Alabama. The 15-year-old Mahoney plans to spend her summer training under Wu Jiani and her husband, Li Yuejiu, both medalists for China in the 1984 Olympics.
"I'm just going to continue to train really hard and hopefully qualify for nationals again in May," she said. "I just want to enjoy the next three years. I couldn't be here without my coaches. They have absolutely taken me from the bottom to where I am now."