All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for April 2003

Disabled veterans keep on rolling

Friday, April 04, 2003
BY Al Winn
Of Our Lebanon Bureau

Chris Fidler's bowling ball was having trouble finding the pins at the other end of the lane at Palmyra Bowling. As happens with many novice bowlers, Fidler's ball tended to curve away from his target rather than toward it.

In the next lane Janine Reese of Susquehanna Twp., also a new bowler, was having better luck. In a practice game she bowled a 130, not bad for a beginner.

"I'm just trying to find what my style is," said Fidler, who lives in Green Point.

However he works it out, Fidler's style is going to be different than most bowlers. Since a motorcycle accident in 1980 near Fort Bragg, N.C., where he was serving in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, a spinal cord injury has restricted Fidler to a wheelchair.

So Fidler, a left-handed bowler, hangs onto the chair's wheel to keep from falling over when he leans just before releasing the ball. "I don't have trunk balance," he said.

Reese, a former Marine, has a style even more unfamiliar to someone used to seeing bowlers stride toward the lane before letting the ball go. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis since 1989, she doesn't have the upper body strength to hold a bowling ball, let alone roll one down the lane. So Barbara Ebright -- "She takes care of me" -- sets the ball at the top of a ramp and Reese pushes it toward the lane.

But there is more to this than just letting gravity do its job. Once the ramp is set up correctly, Reese can make the ball hit almost any pin she wants by simply adjusting the way she turns the ball.

Reese and Fidler are among 25 members of an Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association group that meets regularly at the Lebanon VA Medical Center. They and several other members represented Lebanon at a recent EPVA bowling meet in Wilkes-Barre against teams from nearby states.

The ramp Reese uses is only one of several adaptive devices used by bowlers with different levels of disability.

Reese and Fidler are working on being as good a bowler as Joe Dunn of Lancaster, who won his class at Wilkes-Barre. Dunn, an Air Force veteran who was paralyzed in a Texas wind storm, consistently bowls in the 150s from his wheelchair.

But Dunn was a beginner once, too.

"It was embarrassing to start with. It felt like everyone was staring at me," he said.

All three veterans are also fighting back against a disability that can have as much an effect on the mind as on the ability to walk.

Fidler remembers after he was discharged from the Army, he was sent to a VA hospital in New Jersey.

"I saw people and the way they were living; people passed the time waiting to die," he said. Fidler said he wasn't ready to join them. "I called my parents and said, 'You've got to get me out of here,'" he said.

Bowling is difficult for Fidler, but he is no more ready to give up than he was 20 years ago in the hospital.

"I know I'm not good, but how am I going to get better if I don't keep on trying?" Fidler asked.

Bowling is a relatively new challenge for the Union Twp. resident. Fidler also competes in archery and air rifle competition. Even that may not be enough.

"I picked up some new toys," Fidler said recently. Now he says he's going to try discus, shot put, and javelin.

Reese is also branching out, adding air rifle competition to bowling. Sports are important, she said.

"Now I'm in a wheelchair; it gets me out, and gives me some self-esteem," Reese said.

Dunn said sports help take the "dis" out of "disability." "You find out more what you can do than what you can't," he said.

Some of the motivation comes from competitions held for wheelchair athletes around the country. Several of the Lebanon-area veterans said they are going to the Appalachian Games at Messiah College later this month.

More difficult will be the national wheelchair games in Long Beach, Calif., this summer. To allow at least some local veterans to go, the group is looking for sponsors to help pay for the trip.

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