Bowling a sport easily adapted for disabilities

January 8, 2012 6:34:45 AM PST
Regardless of a person's limitation, bowling can be challenging at all levels. This is why it is among the favorite sport for Special Olympics athletes.

At UIC's student games and bowling center, some of the bowlers practice from Chicago's Eckhart Park District.

Carman Lopez is the park's Special Olympics coach and therapeutic recreation coordinator.

"We start out with bumpers and we also have for wheelchairs a ramp and that makes it easier for them to throw," Lopez said. We usually help them in every possibly we can and we train for bowling since September all the way to May."

The top bowler from Eckhart Park is 24 year old Jelani Allen.

"The top score is 190," Lopez said of Allen. "Sometimes he's gone up to 225."

To bowl like that, you have to be good, regardless of having a cognitive disability.

"I should have took my time and looked directly at the pins and I should be able to roll the ball straight towards the pins I could get the strikes," Lopez said. "The more strikes I get the better."

Being part of Special Olympics has changed many lives like Lynda Foltt's 23-year-old nephew Nicholas Ward.

It has made him more competitive. He likes the camaraderie he has with the other teammates and he loves to win.

"Well his diagnosis was cognitive disability, but he had a cerebral hemorrhage at birth so then they diagnosed him with cerebral palsy," Foltt said.

Chicago Park District's Special Olympic facilitator Mike Benavente said there's something for everyone.

"There's 19 sports offered in the state ," he said. "We have 22 park locations that trains for 18 of the events.

"During the winter we cross country ski out in Man Park on the far eastside. That's over 250 athletes so that's our big thing coming up or that just passed and basketball is the winter sport that's four days and that's a very large event. Many of the schools get involved with that one. Alpine skiing and, believe or not, we practice alpine skiing for Special Olympics in Chicago."

While Jelani loves bowling, he also enjoys playing basketball.

"I'm start to think more like Michael Jordan instead of Air Jordan," Allen said. "It's Air Jelani."