The day Randy Hannah lost his leg was the day the longtime bowler began to learn what he’s capable of.
June 17, 1987 began about as ordinarily as any day had in Hannah’s life. He punched in at the chemical plant where he pulled a paycheck and got right to doing what he always did.
“I was climbing up and down steps, climbing ladders, handling equipment and everything,” Hannah recalls of those long-ago days at the plant.
There was no way he could have known it when he headed off to work that morning, but within hours, that equipment he handled would threaten to take everything from him that he loved: the years of bowling leagues and tournaments where the friends he made had become friends for life, all the rounds of golf he played with buddies on the weekends, the fishing and hunting trips he always looked forward to.
In just the instant it took for a fallen conveyor screw at the plant to mangle the lower half of his left leg beyond recognition, the life that Hannah knew came crashing down in such a way that it would never be the same again.
“We were getting ready to bowl a tournament that weekend,” recalls Linda Perkinson, Hannah’s league partner of 25 years. “We were all ready to go, and then I got the call at work that there had been an accident.”
But for Hannah, that’s not where life ended. In many ways, that was the moment his life began.
“You’re not dead because you lose a leg,” Hannah says. “You still have the ability to do anything you want to do as long as you focus on it and work at it. It’s not that you can’t do anything anymore; you just have to do it a little bit differently.”
Anyone who expected Hannah to surrender to the mean blow that tragedy dealt him at the time knows today that this is not a man who surrenders easily. Hannah was back out on the lanes within a year thanks to a prosthetic limb, and he would go on to have a son in 1989 and a daughter in 1991, both of whom bowl league with him today.
“As soon as they got everything going with the prosthetic leg he just got right back out on the lanes again,” Perkinson says.
Hannah would become a source of guidance, inspiration and support to people who also had lost limbs to tragedy—children and adults alike. Those people include boys who lost their feet in car accidents, girls who lost limbs to diabetes, and grown men who could not accept their new dependence on a prosthetic limb to get through their daily lives.
“There was one guy who was a big hunter and loved to fish, and he felt like he could never do it again after he lost his leg,” Hannah recalls. “When I first met him, he was pretty much out of it. The prosthetic leg he had was sitting in the corner, and he didn’t want any part of it. He said it was unnatural. But after coming out to see me bowl one time, he felt good about it and came out of it with a very positive attitude.”
If the power of positive thinking is real, it’s a power that Randy Hannah possesses in abundance. Anyone who has bowled league with the man in the 23 years since the accident will tell you that if it weren’t for the steaming weather in his hometown of Canton, Ga., you’d never know that he was bowling on a prosthetic leg.
“Unless he wears shorts in the summertime, you really wouldn’t know,” says Adrienne Hughes, who coached youth bowlers with Hannah for 14 years. “The ones who don’t know would be amazed that he is such a strong, accurate bowler. It’s amazing because I don’t think of him as physically challenged.”
“He doesn’t make a big deal out of it,” Linda Perkinson observes. “He just goes on like it’s nothing.”
But if Hannah is the type of guy who doesn’t like to make a big deal of things, he had another thing coming the night he stepped up to the approach in league at Cherokee Lanes in Canton last month and found himself one strike away from a 300 game. After nearly 30 years of bowling, including six before he lost his leg, it would be the first 300 game of his life.
“He had never come close to a 300 before that,” Perkinson says. “I think the accident really changed him. It just motivated him to really set his mind to it. I think he just appreciates bowling more now. I really see that he enjoys it.”
Call it setting your mind to it. Call it a miracle. However you wish to characterize what happened that night at Cherokee Lanes, the fact remains that a man with one leg accomplished more than many bowlers are able to do with two. He got that final strike, but the pins let him think about it for an extra second or two.
“When the very last ball hit the pocket, the 10 pin hesitated,” Hannah remembers. “And then all of a sudden another pin rolled up against it and knocked it into the pit.”
For Linda Perkinson, the moment that 10 pin faded back into the pit was a moment she had been waiting on for 25 years.
“Oh my gosh, I was just so happy for him because I have been bowling with him a long time, and I have been waiting for him to do that,” Perkinson says. “I thought he was going to faint. When that 10 pin fell, he just stood there for a minute and then he turned around and grabbed me and hugged me. It was just fantastic, especially because of that leg. He has a rough time with it sometimes.”
But if that was all there was to this story, well, it just wouldn’t make sense. After all, this is Randy Hannah, and so there has to be something more to overcome, some additional adversity to give him the chance to prove to himself and everyone around him that life can only hold you down as much as you let it.
Hannah got that chance the night he’d nearly wrapped up another three games of league when, once again, tragedy struck.
“They had to carry me out one night because the prosthetic leg snapped while I was bowling,” Hannah explains. “It broke in the ninth frame of the last game, but I was able to get just enough pressure on it and stand right next to the ball return and throw the ball to finish up the 10th frame, and then they got my truck and pulled it up in front of the bowling alley, and I held onto their shoulders and they carried me out to the truck.”
So was that incident enough to persuade Hannah that maybe returning to the lanes on a prosthetic limb wasn’t such a great idea? Not a chance.
“I thought ‘Man, this is tough.’ But they fixed my leg, made it a little stronger and a little better, and I was right back out there again.”
Today, Hannah bowls three nights a week, to say nothing of the tournaments he travels to on the side. You can still find him out on the golf course now and then, and he does just as much hunting and fishing as he pleases. And if the youth bowlers he coaches every Saturday morning ever think they’ve got a reason to be frustrated, Hannah knows just the right remedy for that.
“If the kids throw a tantrum he says ‘Here, kick my leg. It won’t hurt,’” Adrienne Hughes says through her laughter.
Those kids have a name for the leg that Hannah invites them to kick when a bad break makes them mad.
“They call it my robot leg,” Hannah chuckles. “The little ones, that’s how they look at it. I think it’s good for them to see it because it gives them a different perspective on people with prosthetic limbs. They see me bowl and throw strikes and they think of it as just natural.”
“He uses it not as a crutch but as a learning tool,” Hughes explains. “He tells the kids ‘Here, look what I can do. And you have two legs!’ He is just very positive about it, and his bowling is just terrific.”
But beyond the children he coaches and the adults he pulls out of self-pity, the two people he inspires the most are his own son and daughter.
“I look up to him, and my older brother looks up to him,” says Hannah’s daughter Sarah, who is so moved by her father’s experience that she intends to major in science and go on to work in the field of prosthetics and orthotics herself. “I just want to help people with prosthetic limbs and show them that they can do anything, just like my dad. He really does do everything. He doesn’t let it hold him back at all. It’s an amazing story.”