Ice Network

Kayne, O'Shea fight through hardships together

U.S. pair overcomes multiple setbacks to capture Four Continents title
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Tarah Kayne overcame knee and concussion issues to win the pairs title with partner Danny O'Shea at the 2018 Four Continents Championships. -Getty Images

When Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea ascended to the top of the Four Continents podium in Chinese Taipei last week, Kayne looked grateful, awed and a bit drained. Upon receiving her gold medal from ISU Council Member Marie Lundmark, Kayne examined it and turned it over, her face lighting up with joy. You could almost hear her thinking: This one is ours.

That medal signified more than just their becoming the first U.S. pair since Rena Inoue and John Baldwin in 2006 to win the Four Continents crown, and it was more than just a symbol of the first ISU championship title of Kayne and O'Shea's six-year partnership. It meant that after falling -- withdrawing from assignments and spending more time rebuilding Kayne's body than training elements -- they had gotten back up.

"It's been so long, and to have Tarah healthy at a competition again was everything," the pair's coach, Jim Peterson, said. "She had light in her skating again. She was happy."

Fans of Kayne's YouTube channel, where she shares her best makeup tips, know her as a funny, engaging 24-year-old with a ready laugh. But competing in pain for more than a year, followed by complicated right knee surgery last February and prolonged rehabilitation, sapped her spirits.

"I went through a really, really dark time, an intense depression," Kayne said. "I wasn't living the life I wanted to live."

"She was in tremendous pain pretty much every day of training last season," said O'Shea, who turns 27 this month. "We were reassured by doctors we were not making anything worse, but there were times I didn't want her to go back out (on the ice)."

The initial diagnosis was severe tendonitis, so painful the pair contemplated withdrawing after the six-minute warm-up at the 2016 NHK Trophy. Kayne pushed through, though, and the team skated its finest free skate of the season to place fourth.

Eight weeks later, at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City, Missouri, Kayne and O'Shea knew they were far from their best. Still, as defending champions, they wanted to compete. But then Kayne took a bad fall on a throw triple flip in the short program, hitting her head and sustaining a concussion. Their season over, the time for reckoning had arrived.

"Having gone through surgery once already (a labral tear repair in July 2014), it wasn't an avenue I wanted to revisit," Kayne said. "When it came up, I would shut it down and close off the option. Every time someone said, 'Let's try this,' I would try it. Any sort of physical therapy, injections."

"Tarah being in pain affected our ability to train, and that impacted negatively on our accident in the short at nationals," O'Shea said. "The [concussion] was horrible, but it was also a blessing. We had comments from the surgeons that if Tarah had pushed through it, it might not have gone well."

Kayne traveled from their training base in Ellenton, Florida, to Vail Valley Medical Center in Colorado, where doctors found her patella tendon 75 percent torn.

"I had my surgery February 15. It was a very romantic way to spend Valentine's Day," she said, laughing. "I was given a cadaver hamstring, which is now my new patella tendon."

After five weeks on crutches in Florida, she moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for rehabilitation. In Ellenton, O'Shea pursued mechanical engineering studies at University of South Florida in Tampa, taught younger skaters and worked on his jumps.

"I certainly hate to talk about my hardship, because what Tarah has gone through is immensely harder than what I had to go through," O'Shea said. "There is only so much you can do on your own, when the goal is to have strong lifts and connection with your partner. It gets hard staying motivated to come into the rink by yourself, when you watch other teams go to competitions and they are better than they were last year."

What O'Shea didn't do was look for another partner.

"I've been asked by people, 'Why did you continue to stay with Tarah, through the surgeries?'" O'Shea said. "It's because Tarah is the correct partner for me. It's been proven time and time again."

"When I was at the OTC, people would say, 'You're so lucky Danny isn't having tryouts with other girls,'" Kayne said. "There wasn't a moment I thought that. Of course he didn't. That's why we were able to come back from injuries."

The pair spent a week in South Carolina working with Shae-Lynn Bourne and Shae Zukiwsky on a free skate to Swan Lake, and went to Canton, Michigan, to choreograph a short to The Phantom of the Opera with Massimo Scali. But after Champs Camp in late August, Kayne was off the ice another six weeks or so.

"In the beginning of October, [Tarah] landed her first triple," O'Shea said. "Throws and twists had to wait longer, due to the impact (on her right knee). We worked on the programs, to improve any aspect we could, while waiting for other things to be ready."

Kayne and O'Shea returned to competition at the Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia in December. Although they won a bronze medal, they fell three times in their free skate. 

"I look at the protocol, and I still laugh," O'Shea said. "It's unreal to see my name next to it. We still had to turn the corner. Our bodies knew what to do, we could do the elements, but we had to learn to compete again."

"I felt like I was six years old again," Kayne said. "I was afraid to make mistakes, afraid on practice sessions. I felt like I had never done a competition before."

But Zagreb had achieved its purpose: The rust was coming off. Practices got stronger.

At the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California, Kayne and O'Shea skated a clean short and solid free to win silver behind Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim. They didn't gain an Olympic berth -- only one was up for grabs -- but they were named first alternates for PyeongChang. They are also slated to compete (along with the Knierims) at the 2018 World Figure Skating Championships in March.

"It would be really easy for me to say, 'It hurts, I'm not going to do this anymore,'" Kayne said. "But I don't want to do that, and I never have -- it's that simple. It takes a certain type of person to be a pairs skater, and I think I am, or I wouldn't be here."

"After nationals, people said to me, 'Oh, I'm so sorry, you must be so disappointed,'" O'Shea said. "I'm not going to lie, there is definitely a piece of that. We missed the Olympics being first alternates. We were that close. But there's a huge portion of me that says, 'We didn't give up, we could have very easily taken the season off.' So I'm not sad; I'm elated and proud. To use the saying, we got up."