ARLINGTON, Texas - The last time Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, represented Team USA at the South Point Bowling Plaza in Las Vegas, she came away with a trios gold medal and an inspirational story.
Two years later, the 15-time Team USA member now will head back to The Entertainment Capital of the World healthy and looking to defend that title, while also hoping to improve on what was an otherwise frustrating week on the lanes.
O'Keefe is one of six Team USA members selected to represent the United States at the 2019 World Bowling Women's Championships, which will be held at the 60-lane Bowling Plaza from Aug. 23-30.
The 40-year-old right-hander will be joined by fellow trios gold medalist Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York; Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas; Liz Kuhlkin of Schenectady, New York; Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California; and Jordan Richard of Tecumseh, Michigan.
"It's always an honor to get selected to represent Team USA on the lanes, and I'm very excited to get back out there with such a talented group of ladies," O'Keefe said. "Last time turned out to be an interesting week, and while we came away with a few medals, we're going to work hard to improve on that performance."
Johnson, a six-time world champion with a combined 19 years on Team USA and Junior Team USA, has competed in each World Women's Championships or combined World Championships since her Team USA debut in 2005.
McEwan and Parkin both are veterans on the world stage, while Kuhlkin and Richard both have experienced the World Youth Championships and will make their debuts at the adult edition.
All six players have found success on the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour and will be nearing the end of the 2019 PWBA Tour season when it's time to shift gears from their individual focus to competing as a team.
"I think I'm still a little speechless because part of me didn't think I would get picked, since there are so many talented players with more experience than me," Richard said. "Some of us who are going are really close and spend a lot of time competing with and against each other, and that will help me feel even more comfortable at such a big event."
More than 175 players from 33 countries are scheduled to compete at the 2019 World Women's Championships, and they will bowl for medals in singles, doubles, trios, team and Masters competition. Medals also will be awarded for all-events, based on their 24-game pinfall totals.
Qualifying will take place throughout the week, and all semifinals and finals will be contested Aug. 29-30 in a special TV setting.
Richard expects to be able to draw from the things she experienced while collecting two medals at the 2016 World Youth Championships and four medals, including two golds, at the 2018 Pan American Bowling Confederation Women's Championships.
"My first World Championships was an eye-opening experience, because even though you expect everyone to be really good, you see it differently when you get there and see all the countries represented," Richard said. "Just getting to represent your country adds some pressure because you don't want to let anyone down, but having experienced international competition before definitely will help this time."
O'Keefe's return to South Point will be bittersweet, as that was the backdrop for a performance that was more about adrenaline, camaraderie and mentally overpowering physical pain, while suffering through the complications of a kidney stone.
Hours before taking the lanes for the trios semifinals at the 2017 World Championships, O'Keefe was in the emergency room and unsure if she'd be able to stand up, let alone compete in the trios medal round.
Not wanting to let her teammates down, O'Keefe powered through the warm-up session and decided she was going to compete.
O'Keefe, McEwan and USBC Hall of Famer Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, defeated Indonesia in the semifinals and topped Germany to claim the gold medal. It was one of two gold medals for the Team USA women at the 2017 event and O'Keefe's seventh world championship. McEwan also earned the all-events gold medal in 2017.
"The morning of the trios medal round, I didn't think it would be possible for me to stand up straight, let alone bowl," O'Keefe said. "But, when (Team USA head coach) Rod (Ross) called Bryan (O'Keefe) to explain how the forfeit would work, I knew there was no way I was going to miss it. I wasn't going to do that to my teammates. I already felt like I let them down the day before, so I had to at least try.
"My teammates helped me get ready and Bryan and Shannon (Pluhowsky) basically carried me to the bowling center. When it was time to bowl, I went to a whole other mental place and something amazing came out of it."
The medal haul for O'Keefe and her teammates in 2017 also included a pair of doubles bronze medals (Kulick and McEwan and O'Keefe and Josie Barnes).
The Team USA women entered the 2017 World Championships as the defending champions in the coveted team event but fell two pins short of returning to the semifinals, and that has the team even more motivated heading into the 2019 tournament.
"I'm excited to go back, and my role has transitioned a little bit, since I'm now one of the older players on the team," said O'Keefe, whose 2018 included a win at the United States Bowling Congress Team USA Trials and the QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup. "It's really cool to be able to compete in the event again, and in going back to the same location, it's like we'll have a chance to handle some unfinished business.
"It was great to win trios, and any time you earn a medal it's special, but the ultimate goal for us is the team event. We're focused and motivated and definitely comfortable with the venue, so we're looking forward to it."
For more information on Team USA, visit BOWL.com/TeamUSA.