I am proud to report that I am an 18-year traumatic brain injury survivor, but I am still unable to do everything as I previously had. I always wanted to play basketball again competitively but I am unable to use both hands the way I need to. I’ve tried running up and down the court as I used to, but I cannot run with the speed and agility I used to have. However, I have been able to participate and compete in bowling. I know bowling is a recreational sport that does not require you run at the top speed, nor does it require one to use both hands in the same manner. But…I have made some adaptations to my ‘bowling style’ that have allowed me to be more consistent and get back to an average closer to my pre-morbid days. For example, I used to use a 5-step approach when bowling and I would smoothly slide after my fifth step. Now, my approach only contains 2 steps, but you’d be surprised to see how accurate I am at hitting my mark, along with the speed I am able to generate with 2 steps.
I want to provide a little history first… I have been bowling since age 11, and I grew up in a bowling alley watching my mom and grandparents’ bowl. Before my accident in 2003 I was carrying a league high, 214 average. After my injury I was determined to return to bowling, so when I made my return during the 2004-2005 season, I only averaged 138. I was crushed… Why did I try to return? Did I make a mistake coming back? I was pretty hard on myself. I had to readjust my thinking…
- Avoid being hard on yourself. After injury, many family members and survivors are hard on themselves, especially if they are not able to do things the way they were able to before. An injury makes many aspects of your life harder. Healing both physically and emotionally is a big enough task. Why make it more difficult by being hard on yourself? Instead of getting angry with yourself, do your best to be kind and compassionate toward yourself. It will make things easier for everyone.
Even though TBI initially left me in a wheelchair with left side paralysis, I was determined to return to what I was doing pre-accident! When I returned to bowling, I was new to walking again, so keeping my balance while bowling was a struggle as well as trying to score well! I know I should have been counting my blessings for the opportunity to bowl again after all I went through, but I was motivated to get back to what was normal. During my new normal, bowling did not cause any physical mishaps. However, the pain I had from not performing as well kept tapping at my skull like a woodpecker. Oh, but wait a minute… I don’t give up that easy. Let me share my bowling average over the next five seasons:
Many people who know me understand my competitive nature. I’m going to give you my best every time! When I play sports, I play to win, or at least be competitive!!! I’ve been competitive with everything I’ve done in life! For me, Brain Injury was the ultimate competitor, who I had to get off my back!! Brain Injury has taken so much away from me physically, but I refused to let it stop my ability to compete! I feel I have gone through so much, that I am able to stand strong and tall against anything I face!! I feel that If I am given a chance, I am going to try my best despite being paralyzed, in a coma, or not strong enough to work one side of my body as well as the other. I will compete!! Last week, I went to Las Vegas for the USBC Open Championships. There, I got to participate in the Team event with my nephew Jelani, and I participated in Doubles, and Singles events. I usually go to their tourneys during the summers as it provides a nice get a way after my birthday! The last one I participated was in 2017, and as far as I remember, I did not do too well. However, after bowling our Team event in one house and bowling our singles and doubles events in another house, I finally got it together during our singles event.
Here are my games below:
You will notice that in my last game, I was perfect up to the 9th frame when I left the 9 pin and missed it! That’s the best single game score I’ve had during their tournament. I did not notice it, but I was told that pretty much the entire house was watching me bowl my last frame. I was close to perfect, but not the ultimate score! I’ll get it one day! But can you imagine if I decided that since I could not bowl the way I previously had, I went into retirement?
I have my good days, and I have my bad days of bowling, but it is almost like my life with brain injury. I have good days and bad days walking, talking, moving my body freely and easily. BUT…I know my life has purpose and it’s about what you do with the time left here on earth. Personally, I want to be an influence! I want a survivor to read at my story and say, “I am going to do better than that survivor!!”
We all have a choice to either sulk and complain about what works or does not work. Or you can make the best with what is working and stay positive!! After I returned to bowling for a few weeks, I could have easily given up and said that my accident took away my great bowling abilities and I am going to be satisfied with a 138 average. But I believed I could do better!! So, I practiced, changed my bowling approach, slowed my game down, bought a lighter ball, and during the 2019-2020 season I averaged 208. Not bad for someone who went from a 214 average down to a 138 average post-accident… If you give up, you will never know what your capabilities are. There should be no shame in trying. People know your story and will respect your hustle!
While I was in Vegas, there were several people who watched me almost bowl a perfect game. Some of these people would randomly walk up to me to tell me they were rooting for me while I was bowling. I felt honored they were cheering me on. Then, I thought to myself I wish they knew my struggle, all that I went through to provide a glimmer of hope last week Thursday.
In summary, there are many aspects of brain injury that are not fully in your control. However, your attitude and approach to your life are still in your control. By following through with the ideas and suggestions offered by successful survivors and family members, you can improve your outlook, your mood, and heal more quickly.
“Fundamentals for Living Better After Brain Injury | BrainLine.” BrainLine, https://www.facebook.com/brainline/, 19 June 2009, https://www.brainline.org/article/fundamentals-living-better-after-brain-injury.