AWBA 300 Number 2! Print
George_Holscher_300_smallBowling is more than a game to George Holscher. After severing his spine in an accident in 1990, bowling made him feel like a regular guy again.
Last week, the 48-year-old Chesapeake resident reached perfection, becoming the second person ever to roll a 300 game from a wheelchair.
That's 12 strikes in a row - the Holy Grail of the sport.
"I know I said I can't feel my knees," Holscher says, "but let me tell you, they were weak."
The alleys offer a rare opportunity for the disabled, said Gary Ryan of the American Wheelchair Bowling Association: "They can be competitive. They can go out and bowl with the able-body on an equal playing field."
Holscher's big game came during ordinary league play on Monday night at Indian River Lanes - where the house went ballistic after No. 12 hit the pocket like a guided missile.
George_Holscher_300Two days later, Holscher returned to the lanes to demonstrate his technique. His bowling chair is a customized version of his everyday one - heavier, with sturdier wheel locks, extra seat support and a bolted-on ball stand. Resting on the stand: a dark blue, 14-pounder bought at a yard sale for $20.
Holscher polishes it lovingly with a small towel: "I've got some that cost $200 or $300, but this is the one that did it."
He rolls his chair to the foul line, positioning it just so and locking its wheels. He scoots his hips to the right edge of his seat to make room for his swing. Standing bowlers have the advantage of height, which adds more gravity to their swing - picture the pendulum of a wrecking ball - so Holscher needs extra muscle to create his own giddy-up.
"My arms are my legs," he says. "You get strong."
He hoists the ball higher in front, adds a little elbow hitch on the backside. Then he leans down and releases, dynamics that - just for a second - lift the left wheels of his chair off the floor. The ball spins down the right lip of the alley - smooth, quiet and oddly off-target. Then it hooks a few feet from the pocket and the pins explode.
Before his accident, Holscher wasn't into sports and hardly ever bowled.
"Only a few times with friends," he said. "You know, just hanging out and drinking beer."
In his early 20s, the Navy brought him to Norfolk, where he met and married a local girl, Stacey Fowler. Three years after their wedding, he was working as a highway electrical contractor on a project in Chesterfield when a deer leapt in front of a truck he was driving. The truck flipped over a guardrail, throwing him from the cab and into a tree.
At 25 years old, he found himself paralyzed from the waist down: "When my doctor told me I'd never walk again, that was the worst five minutes of my life. And that's about as long as I let it last."
Stacey says her husband never withdrew into the darkness that often follows injuries like his: "We saw so many couples like us whose marriages couldn't withstand the depression. If he'd been like that, I honestly don't know if we'd still be together."
Instead, Holscher installed hand controls on his pickup and became an athlete, heading out to play wheelchair basketball, tennis, billiards. He stuck with bowling, eventually improving his average score from 72 to 192. In 2009, he won a national wheelchair bowling championship.
Now, he plays in multiple leagues, coaches youths and officiates tournaments.
"The accident turned him into an extrovert," Stacey says. "He used to be kind of quiet. Now he's gone all the time."
The perfect game, however, has always been out of reach. Since the AWBA started keeping score in 1962, only one wheelchair bowler has ever hit 300, a Texas man who reached the pinnacle in May.
Holscher's record was eight consecutive strikes - until Monday night: "The ninth frame was the scariest for me. I knew that if I could just get past that..."
By his last frame, everyone was watching.
"When you're on a streak like that, the whole house gets quiet," he says. "Everyone else stops bowling. It gets tense."
With a deep breath to steady his nerves, he let the last throw leave his fingers. The 60 feet to the pins seemed like 60 miles. His heart pounded with each revolution of the ball.
Holscher's face splits into a broad grin that crinkles his eyes:
"Everyone just went crazy. It was amazing."