Alumni Profile - Kara Shea '15

Alumni Profile - Kara Shea '15

Resilience is the ability to respond to setbacks with new determination. We have all had to become more resilient in 2020 with so much happening in our world. When looking for an alum to exemplify what resilience means, we could think of no better example than Kara Shea '15. 

Kara grew up surrounded by people in the Central Catholic Community. She grew up in NE Portland, attending All Saints and having both sisters attend Central Catholic. When it came time for her to choose a high school, there was no other real option for her, and she couldn’t wait to be a Ram herself!

Kara always had a great passion for sports, and she played a lot of them. While she was a student at Central Catholic, she participated in soccer, swimming, and track, as well as basketball for a period of time. She loved athletics so much that she got involved as Laura Jaeger’s assistant, helping with everything from setting up for football games to replenishing food in the snack shack.

Starting her junior year, however, Kara entered into a rough period. Things switched in her head and she began to lose a lot of weight. Kara admitted she was in a dark place, but she did not see it so clearly then. In March of that year, her family started to notice her recent weight loss and encouraged her to see an eating disorder dietician. After some time, seeing a dietician alone was not helping Kara, so her doctor and family wanted her to get an evaluation for a partial hospital treatment program in Portland. But Kara was not having it. “I was just saying, nope, that’s not me, no way! It may seem silly,” she remembers, “but I just wanted to go to Junior Prom and I was not going to let a treatment program get in the way.”

One day at school, Kara was seeing her counselor, Melissa Stupfel '94, for another matter. She distinctly remembers Mrs. Stupfel taking a pause and saying, “There is something else we need to talk about. Your teachers are concerned about you and your weight.” Kara was surprised and it made her sad to think that people were concerned about her. Up to this point, most people that were noticing were complimentary about her losing weight. They would ask, “How are you doing it? You look great!” These comments ultimately fed into her eating disorder. 

Kara credits Mrs. Stupfel, her family, and teachers for putting her on the right track. “I had great teachers who were going above and beyond and really taking that step and said ‘We are worried about Kara”. She finally admitted she had a problem and was evaluated for the partial hospital program. They confirmed that the program was necessary for her, but that it would take a lot of time and effort. She would miss a lot of school and need to devote herself to her health. The eating disorder program was very involved, and yet she was determined to keep up with her schoolwork. With Kara’s permission, Mrs. Stupfel brought in her core group of friends and helped to create a space of safety so they could help with Kara’s recovery. Her teachers worked with her and supported her so she could fully invest in the program and get healthy. Not many people can handle attending school and this program at the same time. “I really do give credit to all my teachers for that,” Kara says. “They really knew I was going to need understanding and a different level of support. For that, I was so grateful.”

By the summer, Kara managed to complete the treatment program and her junior year academics. On one hand, she was motivated in the summer to stay healthy because she wanted to play soccer in the fall. On the other hand, the summer was a struggle and she had to work at her recovery every day. “Outpatient is harder,” Kara shares, “because you are not there and have someone on your ass all the time!” She continued to have great support from her teachers and medical team, and she was allowed to play soccer under watchful eyes. Kara had weekly check-ins to monitor her vitals and weight, and drank massive amounts of Gatorade to keep her electrolytes up. 

As she went further into senior year, she was able to find some peace and felt more stable. She had some mini-relapses, but she was able to work through it with the help of her teachers and Central Catholic staff, such as Justin Scott, Melissa Stupfel '94, Sara Bruins, Kat Coughran, Steve Pyne, and Laura Jaeger. Justin Scott '91 said of Kara, “Watching Kara go through everything that she has struggled with and seeing her overcome and be able to channel her passions into doing what she loves to do has been truly amazing. I could not be more proud of her. She is a fantastic person and her future is going to be amazing.”

Kara also started to share her story to help others. “For my senior Shine project in Religion class, you were supposed to create a slideshow of something you are passionate about. So I made it about what I went through, like why I wasn’t in school a lot last spring,” she says with a smile. “I have really found recovery in sharing my story. I don’t know why that resonated with me, but I found empowerment and strength through sharing my story. Part of it, I think, is not having it be a secret and having more people hold me accountable and wanting me to succeed.” 

Kara stayed active in college, attending University of Oregon, teaching Group X classes, and interning for the Duck football team as a strength and conditioning intern. She also started triathlon training and did that for a few years until she had a bad bike accident that forced her to reconsider the sport. There is a certain level of fitness in triathlon training, as well as an ideal body type. Looking back, Kara realized triathlons may not have been the best fit for her. She began thinking about other options that might suit her better. “I did weightlifting classes with Jim Delegato '74 at Central Catholic, and I had done strong man, so I thought, let's go back to weightlifting––a new challenge!”

Today, Kara competes competitively in Olympic Weightlifting, with a goal to qualify for Nationals in the next two years. She is working through a shoulder injury, but––in true Kara fashion––she is not giving up. “The sport is unforgiving, really,” she says. “There is a certain pursuit of excellence and it draws you back. I hate the word perfection, but you do need to get to a certain level of perfection to complete it.” Even though it is a big challenge, it seems like Kara has found where she needs to be. “I feel this is where my body is happy to sit weight-wise. I feel my best with weightlifting and it's where I feel the most at peace with my mind.”

Kara currently works for Lululemon, coaches at Beaverton and Westview, and is training to qualify for nationals. She just also started to work with Coach Scott helping to train our boys on the Central Catholic Football team! When she has precious free time, she loves hiking, cooking, and spending time with friends. Kara really prioritizes her friendships and continually wants to help others. “I know this sounds so cliche and corny,” she shares, “but I really just want to be able to make an impact and use my struggles and everything that I have gone through and be able to share that and be the person I really needed in high school.”

Kara has already helped so many people by sharing her story. Melissa Stupfel still reaches out to Kara if she thinks there is a student on her caseload that could use someone like Kara to talk to. Melissa said, “Kara Shea was an incredibly rewarding student to work with. She was self-aware, risked being vulnerable, and was open to additional support when needed. The grit she demonstrated on her journey to wellness and health remains with me after all these years. I feel blessed to be a part of her high school journey”. 

Many of us have had to be resilient throughout this time of the pandemic––adjusting work, school schedules, and our social lives. Eating Disorders are on the rise with so many men and women isolated right now. Without contact from friends and families, people are able to dig deeper into secrecy, allowing this disorder to flourish. As Kara shared, with the right support and care, recovery is achievable. We hope Kara’s story will inspire others facing challenges to meet them with renewed determination. 

*If you know or suspect someone who needs help with an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorder Hotline at 800.931.2237.