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St. Rita's Mike O'Connor (top) tries to escape St. Ignatius' Michael Shanahan during a 138 pound bout at the Catholic League championship at Brother Rice on Saturday, January 19, 2013. | John Booz~for Sun Times Media
Two weeks ago at the Catholic League wrestling tournament, Michael Shanahan tweaked a lingering knee injury in the 138-pound final.
Shanahan, a junior at St. Ignatius, could have defaulted the match against St. Rita's Mike O'Connor, accepted his runner-up medal and moved on. But when you've been through more adversity before you were 10 years old than most people face in a lifetime, quitting is not an option.
After taking some injury time, Shanahan resumed the match. O'Connor completed a 5-2 win, but Shanahan was still the feel-good story of the meet — if not of the year.
Shanahan looks like your average teenager at 5-9 and 138 pounds and he acts and talks like one, too. But his story is anything but typical.
He was born Igor Kravchenko in a remote area of Kazakhstan. He remembers his birth family, but prefers not to talk about them. At some point, Shanahan says, he ran away from home and wound up in an orphanage in a remote part of Kazakhstan.
A few years later, the Shanahan family — mom Ann, dad Kevin and daughter Kate — entered the picture and changed his life. He also changed theirs, but that's getting a little ahead of the story.
The Shanahans were then living in the Atlanta area and Ann got involved with Kidsave International, a group that matches orphans from other countries with American families. One of Kidsave's programs is Summer Miracles, which brings older orphans to the U.S. for a few weeks as sort of an audition for adoption. "No one's going to adopt a 10-year-old boy without meeting him," Ann Shanahan said.
The Shanahans arranged to bring 40 orphans to the U.S. over the span of several years and 38 were adopted. One of the success stories was Michael, who then still went by the name of Igor. How that changed sounds like something out of Hollywood.
"I didn't pick him, my daughter [Kate] did," Ann Shanahan said. "He came over one day, just to hang out. She said, 'I think Igor could be my brother.'"
At that time, Igor/Michael was 4-1 and weighed 38 pounds, making him one of the smallest 10-year-olds around. Being a little kid who didn't speak any English wasn't easy.
"I was a very aggressive kid," Michael said. "People liked to make fun of my height — I was very short — make fun of my weight. I would ... get into a lot of fights at school. My dad's like, let's get some of the aggression out."
That's how he came to wrestling, after unsuccessful stints as a soccer and baseball player. In wrestling, he finally got to compete against kids his own size. He also grew into a normal-sized kid.
In the meantime, the Shanahan family relocated from Atlanta to Chicago when Michael and Kate were in sixth grade in 2008. Now they're both student-athletes at St. Ignatius (Kate in track and cross country) and they're frequently mistaken for twins; not unusual, considering they coincidentally share the same birth date.
"My name is Mick Patrick Shanahan," he said. "That's as Irish as you can get. Everyone is like, you are a tough Irish boy. Well, there's a huge story [but] I just go with it."