JWCC Prairie State profile: Pursuit of bodybuilding career spurs track record efforts for Liberty’s O’Neil

Liberty senior Shannon O’Neil, shown here competing in the 100-meter hurdles during the Mark Twain/Becky Thatcher relays in Hannibal, Mo., set three Liberty school records this season. Photo courtesy of Mathew Kirby

LIBERTY, Ill. — Jared Schmidt’s excitement is understandable.

Despite a spring in which the weather was “absolutely atrocious”, Liberty’s women’s track team racked up a number of school records in individual events. Now is the time to run as the Eagles head to the Class 1A section of Beardstown on Friday.

“So now that it’s, you know, 85 degrees and sunny, I’m pretty excited to see how the rest of the year progresses,” Schmidt said.

Shannon O’Neil is one of the reasons for this enthusiasm.

The senior sprinter and hurdler set three school records this season – 15.91 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles, 48.27 seconds in the 300 hurdles and 1:02.05 in the 400m – in her first season on the track since her first year.

Admittedly more successful than she bargained for, O’Neil believes her training was key to the success.

“I think weight training has really helped me gain strength and be more athletic than I’ve ever been,” O’Neil said. “So just that and having that base right now has really changed everything. I mean, my nutrition is perfect right now too.

It’s true, O’Neil is a competitive bodybuilder.

On April 23, O’Neil won two categories at his first competition – the Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders Spring Natural in DeKalb, Illinois. She competed in the novice figure and open figure categories. Judging is based on good leanness and conditioning with full, sound and shapely muscling, good balance, good proportion and symmetry of musculature and conditioning, and presentation.

Liberty’s Shannon O’Neil attends the Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders Spring Natural in DeKalb, Illinois. | Photo submitted

Like her success on the track, O’Neil was surprised by the results of her first competition.

“It was really nerve-wracking,” O’Neil said. “But I met a lot of really cool people at the back who really helped calm my nerves. And once I got on stage, I practiced for so long it was like second nature. I knew what I was doing. It really surprised me too. because now I’m a professional bodybuilder at 17, which is very difficult.

Now comes the planning of when and where to compete again.

“I plan to do another show in about a year because I need to take some time to rebuild,” ONeil said. “So I plan to do my next one next year, and this one will qualify me for, for example, the biggest national natural competition.”

Natural competitions, according to OCB guidelines, prohibit the use of anabolic steroids.

Schmidt is not surprised by his success.

“That’s really cool,” he said. “I just love the fact that the kids are doing things off the track and cross-country. But (bodybuilding) is a first for me. But at the same time, knowing the kid she is and at how far she’s gotten into weightlifting in the last four or five years, I mean, it’s not surprising at all. She’s just an amazing athlete overall.

O’Neil plans to attend Culver-Stockton College, where she received the prestigious Pillars of Excellence scholarship. Recipients must demonstrate leadership and a dedication to community service.

Before heading to the hill, she and her Liberty teammates must focus on their quest for an appearance in the Class 1A athletics competition.

“I really feel like two of us will definitely go,” O’Neil said.

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Teresa E. Burton