SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Mini Tvaska of St. Petersburg, Fla., extended her own participation record at the USBC Women's Championships when she made her 65th consecutive tournament appearance this week.
The 93-year-old tournament veteran arrived at Oncenter Convention Center sporting bright yellow fingernails and wished she could've found a hat to match.
The yellow theme was in support of her team, The Sunshine Gals, and also captured the brightness of her sunny mood and general happiness to take part in her favorite sport.
Tvaska has had the opportunity to see the Women's Championships evolve, and she's collected a lot of memories in more than six decades on the tournament lanes.
"You know, I thought I would retire after I did this for 60 years, but now I realize it keeps me going - I realize I have to live for another year to keep going to Nationals," Tvaska said, with a laugh. "I even donated my navy jacket and vest with all of my tournament pins and patches to the bowling association in Charlotte, N.C., back in 2007 because I thought it would be my last year. Boy was I wrong."
Tvaska was curious and delighted to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the one-of-a-kind Women's Championships venue this year and reminisced about the many changes she has seen over the years, from the days of pinboys to the automatic pinsetters, computerized scoring and all of the precision machinery used today.
"Believe it or not, it's not as noisy to bowl in events or leagues today," said Tvaska, who make her first Women's Championships appearance at the 1947 event in Grand Rapids, Mich. "I just think these inventors of better equipment are geniuses. I once asked an engineer who designed a system how they think of these things, and he said he can just see it in his mind's eye. I'm pretty sure he wasn't hallucinating, though."
Tvaska used to travel as part of a team that competed in city and state tournaments in her home state of Michigan as well other events in Toledo, Ohio, and Chicago.
"The prize money was pretty good for those events, even if you didn't get first place," Tvaska said. "I also used to go and watch the pros when they competed. We'd sit there for the entire day and just watch them bowl."
Her three-member team, including her sister, started heading for Nationals, too, then arranged for two subs each year when they arrived. With time, however, Tvaska lost her sister and eventually ended up as a single bowler seeking a team.
In recent years, she has bowled with The Sunshine Gals, and now, she buys a post-bowling dinner for them, one of whom is her niece, Nancy Nelson of Waterford, Mich. They gratefully accept Tvaska's offer, and she says she doesn't mind bribing them with food to return to the tournament with her each year.
And when it comes to food, she admits it is one of her overall concerns in life. Her purse is filled with peanut butter and jelly, Coke, energy bars, pretzels, butterscotch candy and mints because she says her teammates are afraid she will need the energy.
"You see, I cut back this year from bowling in four leagues to only two," Tvaska said. "I've been gaining a little weight because we have such good cooks as caregivers where I live (Gateway Manor Assisted Living). So, I got just a little tired this year."
Tvaska intends to get the rest she needs and plans to be in Reno, Nev., to compete in next year's Women's Championships on May 18 and 19.
This year, Tvaska competed in the Sapphire Division and rolled scratch scores of 366 series in singles, 342 in team and 305 in doubles.
The Sapphire Division is made up of bowlers with averages of 149 and below, with handicap based on 100 percent of 150.
Sponsors for the 2011 USBC Women's Championships sponsors include Turning Stone Resort and Casino, official brackets sponsor, Humana, official registration sponsor, Miller Lite and Molson Canadian, official beer sponsors. Supporting sponsors include Storm Bowling Products, Nationwide Insurance, The Oncenter, Syracuse Convention and Visitors Bureau, Caz Limo & Tours, Kegel, official lane maintenance provider, US Steltronic, official scoring system, and Brunswick, official lane provider.