DETROIT -- Tarah Kayne cried, and both she and partner Danny O’Shea wanted to throw up.
They were a nervous wreck. It was quite the pre-performance routine for Kayne and O’Shea as they readied to hit the ice for their short program, but it worked.
The pairs figure skaters earned a 71.83 Thursday evening to take the lead at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which is part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity. They’re trailed by Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who earned 70.47, and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier’s 68.32. Defending national champions and 2018 Olympians Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim sit in seventh with a 61.56.
“We were nervous going into today because it’s something that means a lot to both of us,” O’Shea explained. “We’re very happy that it went as well as it did today.”
As it turns out, the crying is old hat for Kayne; she does it prior to every competition.
“I get really nervous before every time I compete. People always ask, ‘Do you have any fun rituals like putting on your left skate first?’ Yes, I cry,” the 25-year-old revealed. “That’s my ritual. I can’t not do it. I haven’t figured out a way not to. I hysterically cry.
“Sometimes Danny holds me until I stop. Other times I just stop on my own. It’s just part of the process, I get very nervous.”
Today’s nerves stemmed from the competition being a homecoming of sorts for both Kayne and O’Shea, whose Motor City roots are deep, and their drive to return to the top of the standings at a U.S. championships.
With his father a former General Motors employee, O’Shea was born in Pontiac, Michigan, where he lived until age 4. Kayne hasn’t lived in Michigan herself, but her parents did.
“My parents spent the majority of their younger life in Detroit,” Kayne said of her connection. “My father was born in Michigan. My mom went to John Glenn High School in Westland, and they lived there until they eventually moved to Florida.”
Kayne and O’Shea’s lead marks the first time in three years they’re on top at nationals, a spot they’ve been longing for but held back from primarily by injuries.
Since winning their first and, to date, only U.S. title in 2016 the pair has had its fair share of struggles.
“It has been quite a process of dealing with injuries over the past quad. There’s been quite a few of them. Tarah’s been a trooper,” O’Shea reflected.
Kayne dealt with surgery for a labral tear in her right hip in the summer of 2014, a concussion suffered during their short program at the 2017 U.S. championships, surgery to reconstruct her right patella tendon the following month and a stress fracture in her right knee last March that cut their 2017-18 season short.
“Injuries are what our last four years have been filled with. I’m very happy to say we’re both healthy at the moment, feeling good. It’s great.”
Kayne and O’Shea switched coaches and training locations in the offseason. Formerly with Amanda Evora and Jim Peterson in Ellenton, Florida, they now live in Colorado Springs, Colorado, training under Dalilah Sappenfield and reaping the benefits of the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
“Living at the Olympic Training Center right now we’re able to get physical therapy maintenance on a constant basis, which is pretty vital to coming back to health and maintaining health.”
All three teams in podium position have experienced health issues as of late.
Cain suffered a concussion in early December after falling on her head exiting a lift during her and LeDuc’s free skate at Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia.
“We’re just really happy to be here. We didn’t think a month ago we would be on this ice, so to have a performance like that gives us a lot of confidence in the training we’ve done,” Cain said. “We followed the concussion protocol in order to be ready for this competition. We didn’t know how I would feel on the day, we didn’t know how I would react to the lights, anything like that.
“But today I felt amazing. I knew that some of the other competitors were putting out really strong performances, so it made me feel like I was a horse at the gate and I wanted to get out. We had that mentality going into this program.”
Denney, meanwhile, has been recovering from a stress fracture in her ankle.
“It happened in the beginning of the summer, then got worse and worse throughout our grand prix season, which is why we had to withdraw (from the Internationaux de France),” she explained. “It was too painful to skate.”
“We’ve had a rocky start to the season, dealt with a big injury. There’s a lot of baggage coming into this competition, so we really prepared and worked,” Frazier said. “This probably wasn’t the perfect short, but it’s definitely something to be proud of and a great starting spot for the free.”