Former Kazakhstani orphan finds home as one of Chicago’s best prep wrestlers

Ben Rohrbach
Prep Rally

Plenty of folks who don't know Michael Shanahan hear his name announced before a wrestling match, watch the 5-foot-9, 138-pound high school junior defeat his opponent and wrongfully think to themselves (or aloud), "Whaddya know? Another rough-and-tumble Irish kid from Chicago." If they only knew.

Michael Shanahan (right) took up wrestling to let out his aggression, which seems to be working out quite well -- Chicago Sun-Times
Michael Shanahan (right) took up wrestling to let out his aggression, which seems to be working out quite well -- Chicago Sun-Times

"My name is Mick Patrick Shanahan," the St. Ignatius College (Chicago, Ill.) Prep teen told the Chicago Sun-Times. "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."

The story begins in a small town in Kazakhstan, a sparsely populated country made famous by the controversial Sacha Baron Cohen vehicle "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

Shanahan didn't share much of his childhood in Kazakhstan with the Sun-Times, except to say his name was Igor Kravchenko then, when he ran away from home before finding an orphanage in a remote area of his remote country.

That's where Igor Kravchenko's journey ended and Michael Shanahan's began. On behalf of Kidsave International's Summer Miracles program, Atlantans Ann and Kevin Shanahan helped bring 40 orphans to the U.S., and their daughter Kate befriended one of them.

"I didn't pick him, my daughter did," Ann Shanahan told the Sun-Times. "He came over one day, just to hang out. She said, 'I think Igor could be my brother.'"

A footnote in the Sun-Times article might be the miracle of all miracles: Kate and Michael share the same birthday. Talk about serendipity. Now, living as brother and sister, the two are often confused as twins.

The siblings were 10 when they met, and Michael was all of 4-foot-1 and 38 pounds. Sadly, other kids teased the scrawny kid who couldn't speak much English.

"I was a very aggressive kid," Michael explained to the Sun-Times. "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."

Needless to say, his peers don't tease him any longer. He's blossomed into an honor roll student and one of his classification's top-ranked wrestlers, hoping to become just the second wrestler in St. Ignatius history to place in the Illinois state tournament, according to the Sun-Times. Yup, Michael Shanahan has come a long way from Kazakhstan.

"My mother and I are like best friends," he said. "A lot of times we talk; sometimes I have to step back and say, 'Wow, I could be in an orphanage in Kazakhstan right now.'

"Instead, I'm here. I couldn't ask for anything more."

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