Many will remember Colleen O’Hara as a fish – natural in the water. A two-sport star for the Rams, she excelled on both the swimming and water polo teams in the mid-2000s. It’s been 10 years since she roamed the halls of Rockford High School, but the lessons learned there haven’t faded with time.
“My drive, determination and work ethic were all things I developed through participating in Rockford athletics,” she says looking back. “I believe being a part of a team and participating in sports that were both team- and individual-focused was beneficial throughout my college and adult life.”
Growing up the youngest in the family, Colleen’s brother and sister both participated in sports at an early age. Watching them and their experiences in sports at Rockford, and her competitive nature to keep up with them, was all the motivation she needed.
Motivation was only one piece of the puzzle though as she notes excellence in or outside of the pool wouldn’t have materialized without the influence of strong coaches that led the programs. Tom Parks (swimming) and Al Reickard (water polo) were both instrumental in her development and where she is today.
“Coach Parks was, and still is, someone I admire,” she shared. “He made his athletes want to be the best versions of themselves in and out of the pool and the work ethic he instilled in us and those life lessons he taught have carried over into life outside of RHS and the pool. Al is one of the most inspiring coaches I've ever played for. I worked harder because he taught us that it wasn't about the individual, but all the girls as a whole working together. He taught me how to communicate with my teammates and trust their skills. I still have so much love and respect for both of them.”
As a swimmer, her main events were the 200 IM and 100 Butterfly. But it was a team dynamic where she set a school record in the 400 Freestyle Relay, along with teammates Megan Miles, Kelsey Vermeer and Mary Keeley. That team mindset carried over into water polo, where she played Hole D (which is the defensive position right in front of the net) and names her biggest accomplishments as winning state championships against OK Red Conference foes East Grand Rapids in 2006 and Hudsonville in 2008 (her senior season).
After high school, O’Hara went on to play water polo at Michigan State University where she graduated in 2012. She again stood out in the team setting, being named captain during both her junior and senior seasons.
“I got to play with girls who I had competed against throughout HS and developed a love for each one of them,” Colleen said. “It was a special experience to go from fierce competitors to teammates. I loved being a part of a team and working hard.”
For Colleen, the opportunity to study Kinesiology (the study of movement in the human body) was just as important as the athletics when she ultimately chose Michigan State ... along with some family influence.
“Both of my parents went to Michigan State, so I grew up a Spartan,” she said. “The biggest draw for me to MSU was the ability to play water polo and study Kinesiology.”
“Playing sports was ultimately what set me on the path to my current career,” she continued. “When I was in middle school, I was swimming year-round though Riptide and developed shoulder pain. I was referred to a chiropractor in Rockford and my shoulder pain went away. I continued to see a chiropractor once every two weeks and had therapeutic massage to maintain proper biomechanics as I was growing and pushing my muscles daily. I attribute my ability to continue playing Water Polo in college to the health of my spine and shoulders through chiropractic care. I never had any major sport related issues with my body despite how physically demanding swimming and water polo can be.”
Now a chiropractor at ChiroHealth in Rockford, O’Hara is working with athletes to keep their bodies functioning at their optimum, just like her chiropractor did.
“I am so grateful to be working with athletes on a daily basis,” she eagerly admits. “Our practice is an activator office which is one of the many different techniques chiropractic offers to its patients. Activator is an instrument based adjusting technique which is a great alternative to manual adjusting if patients are nervous about chiropractic or can't seem to relax for manual manipulation.”
In the office, or in a pool, O’Hara is still very aware of what Rockford athletics did for her personally.
“I believe being a part of a team and participating in sports that were both team and individual focused was beneficial throughout my college and adult life. It taught me how to be a part of a team and to work well with other people to achieve a greater goal. It also taught me that if I work hard I am able to achieve far more than I ever thought possible.”