All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for November 2002

Bowling Fan Adapts to Keep the Ball Rolling

Becky Smith, Who Has Multiple Sclerosis, Loves to Bowl from Her Wheelchair

Nov 24, 2002
Greensboro News and Record
Cynthia Jeffries, Staff Writer

People used to stare at Becky Smith when she bowled. Smith had been bowling for more than 30 years - sometimes four times a week. She often had a better average than her husband, Johnnie, who, in fairness, hated bowling. She even got her mother, Helen McDowell, 80, into the sport.

But two years ago, Smith started falling down a lot after releasing the ball.

Smith, 54, has multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system that affects muscle coordination. The disease was diagnosed 10 years ago, although she speculates she might have had it longer than that. She used a walker to get around her house. Outside of the house, she used an upholstered electric wheelchair.

Smith didn't mind using her wheelchair at the mall, the grocery store - any place, really - except the bowling alley. Although she needed the chair or her walker to maintain her balance, she was afraid that using either while bowling might be viewed as unsportsmanlike or cheating.

"I didn't know if it would be against the (bowling league's) rules," she said.

After seeing her fall a couple of times, Art Lawrence, an employee at Brunswick Triad Lanes and someone who once worked with Smith, suggested she try bowling from her wheelchair. He had not seen any of the other 1,700 bowlers who frequent the lanes use a wheelchair, but he was sure Smith could find a way to make it work. Plus, he had heard of wheelchair leagues.

Smith kept saying no. She wanted to bowl the way she had done for years - the way everyone else in her league did.

"She was real wobbly," said longtime friend Janet Shepherd, 59. "One time, I ran up there and caught her before she hit the floor. I didn't know I could move that fast."

A lot of the other bowlers also picked her up when she fell. Her teammates would create a human shield around her sometimes so Lawrence and others couldn't see her when she fell.

"Art was so concerned about me hurting myself," Smith said.

After a lot of persuasion from Lawrence, Smith decided to call her bowling league to see if she could use her chair. The rules didn't prohibit it.

With a yes in hand, all she had to do was figure out how.

Where should she stop the chair? Should she turn to the side or try to do it head on? How would she release the ball?

Eventually, the mother of two and grandmother of one came up with a method: She pulls up to the starting line, leans over the right side of her chair holding the bowling ball, does a couple of swings with her arm, then releases the ball.

She uses the basket on the front of her wheelchair to transport the ball.

"It holds my purse," she said. "That's pretty heavy. I figured if it could hold my purse, it could hold my bowling ball."

She also switched to a smaller ball to give her more control. She used to bowl with a 13-pound ball. She uses a 9-pound ball now.

Her teammates say the chair has not changed her bowling much, although her average decreased from 155 to about 100. She bowled 120 a couple of weeks ago. She now bowls two times a week instead of four. Other than that, Smith and her game are pretty much the same, her teammates said.

"We complain about her a lot, but not about the wheelchair," joked B.J. Barnes, 69, one of her teammates. "She is an inspiration to all of us."

Smith is the only league player who bowls from a wheelchair in a regular league at the Brunswick lanes, Lawrence said.

"She is doing great," Lawrence said.

Contact Cynthia Jeffries at 373-7318
(C) 2002 Greensboro News and Record