It was not hard to spot Elysia Current growing up.
She was the one pitching a shutout with a swollen eye after getting hit in the face with a softball, the one shoeing up to bowl league with a bandaged wrist she sprained a day earlier.
Always, of course, against her mother’s best advice.
“Nothing is going to stop me from being competitive and doing what I love,” says Current, the top seed at last year’s USBC Queens in Syracuse, N.Y. “My mom said I couldn’t bowl when I sprained my wrist. She said I couldn’t play softball with a swollen eye. But I did.”
Current has been known to do a lot of things—hold her own on the softball field at age 14 against guys in their 20s, compel a men’s bowling league to change their bylaws to make her the league’s first woman competitor, dominate local youth tournaments so thoroughly that boys openly expressed a fear of “losing to the girl” the minute she walked into the center.
But if the boys at those local tourneys knew anything of the rivalry between Current and her older brothers, they also would have known they hardly were alone.
“Hey, I don’t want to lose to her either!” says Current’s older brother, Eric. “One time I told her I was going to take up polo because I knew she couldn’t afford a horse.”
Current still has not invested in any horses, but polo may be the only sport she did not take on as a kid convinced there was nothing her brothers did that she could not do just as well.
“They just gave me that drive to do it,” Current says of her brothers. “They always encouraged me; they were always there.”
From softball to bowling, basketball to baseball, any field or court her brothers took soon found a frequent visitor in Elysia Current.
“She was just one of the boys along with them,” says Current’s mother, Deb.
“She really liked to compete against the boys,” Current’s father, Joe, recalls. “She got a kick out of that. She is the youngest in the family and always tagged along with her brothers to ballgames.”
But the USBC Queens is an event in which Current never has been content merely to tag along. At the 2007 Queens, fresh off a national championship with Wichita State as well as an Intercollegiate Singles Championship title that same year, Current averaged nearly 240 in the first block to take an early lead.
Four years later, qualifying for match play in 52nd place must have felt like another softball to the eye for a girl with two national collegiate titles to her name.
Current may have been all grown up by then, but that kid who took the softball mound with a swollen eye showed up to pitch another shutout. Current posted a 6-0 match-play record and averaged nearly 230, vanquishing opponents such as USBC Hall of Famer, Robin Romeo, and eventual 2011 Queens champ, Missy Parkin, along the way.
Current may have been bowling for a major women’s title on a tough shot against the greatest woman bowlers in the world, but with match-play scores like 756, 721 and 706, it might as well have been another night at that men’s league back home.
“It takes a great player to be able to do that, to let go of not qualifying as high as you might have wanted to and just put that aside and turn it on,” says eight-time Team USA member, Shannon O’Keefe, who got a first-hand look at that greatness when Current defeated her, 756 - 724, in a match at last year’s Queens that sent O’Keefe to the contender’s bracket.
“That match was quite intense, and it was against one of my very good friends in Shannon O’Keefe,” Current recalls. “It was a good experience for me, but when I won, Shannon told me ‘It’s not over yet. You still have two matches to win; you need to get that top seed.’ She was there to help me and cheer me on, and that made it more relaxing and fun for me.”
Clearly, Current got the message. Two matches later, she made the telecast as the No. 1 seed. And if the poker-faced competitor who stormed into the title match with a three-bagger is all you ever have seen of Elysia Current, you might think you know her. You would be wrong.
“Normally, you can look down 20 lanes at a bowling tournament and know if someone has thrown a strike or not, just from the look on their face, but not with Elysia,” says Emily Maier, Current’s former teammate on the 2007 national championship team at Wichita State. “Elysia just has the same intensity and aggressiveness all the time. But off the lanes, she is very different. She’s so fun and bubbly and loves to have a good time.”
That is the Elysia Current her friends and family know.
“We were crossing with each other at a tournament once, and at one point I said ‘Man, I am so thirsty. I’m drinking like a fish!” O’Keefe recalls. “And so for the next three games, all we did was talk about whether fish drink water or not, and since then I have called her my little fishy.”
But the thing most people call her these days is “coach”—especially if you happen to be a youth bowler in Current’s hometown of Ephrata, Pa., where she coaches the Ephrata High School bowling team.
“One reason I love coaching is that if the women’s tour is ever going to come back, the young ladies I coach today will have to be the ones to come up and do it,” Current says. “I am always going to coach and try to make the younger generation better. I want to do what I can to make sure younger bowlers have something to look forward to.”
“That’s another thing that makes you great,” O’Keefe says of Current’s commitment to coaching. “Being able to be selfless and give all of your knowledge to somebody else regardless of who they are, because someday these little girls are going to come around and kick our butts!”
As for that question of fish and their drinking habits, well, there is an answer for that. Sort of.
“The answer is, yes,” O’Keefe says. “I can’t remember which it is now, but either fresh water fish drink, or salt water fish do. But not both.”