BATON ROUGE, La. - Chris Ingram of Peoria, Ariz., learned at a young age that a rare condition would keep him sidelined from most physical activities and contact sports, but instead of that forcing him into a sedentary lifestyle, he found a safe way to exercise and be competitive at the same time.
Ingram, who suffers from hemophilia, a rare bleeding disorder that doesn't allow the blood to clot normally, was told by doctors there were severe risks associated with activities that had a potential for injury or bleeding. A small cut for most, could be life-threatening for Ingram. Contact could cause internal bleeding. He tried not to let those words shape his life, and he pushed the limits.
Although he did attempt to play Little League Baseball as a child, the activity often intensified his symptoms and even led to bleeding in his left ankle. He sometimes was forced onto crutches or into a wheelchair because he couldn't walk or run, and he eventually developed arthritis in the same ankle.
In 2001, Ingram made a friendly wager with his sister, Georgette Sturm, an avid bowler, and it would change his life forever.
"It started off as a bet," Ingram said. "I was big talk at the time because I said I could beat her (at bowling). I started taking lessons with Jeremy McElliott, and I got hooked. I started to get better and better, and I had her in average within a year. I joined my first league on June 2 of that year."
Ingram, now 27, is as competitive as ever and made his second appearance at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships this year at the Baton Rouge River Center. His sister is a 16-time participant at the USBC Women's Championships.
Bowling has helped Ingram fight through life's challenges, and he is very active in educating others with hemophilia, as well as their families, about the sport and how it can be just as competitive and rewarding as any other activity.
Ingram often helps his friend, Felix Garcia, the President of Hemophilia Outreach of El Paso (Texas), with fundraisers that allow children to go to various camps and amusement parks. He also attends their annual bowl-a-thon, whenever possible, to help raise money for the cause. He also would like to develop other chapters around the country.
"Since I got really hooked on bowling, I'm just trying to get them more involved," said Ingram, who bowls league at Brunswick Zone Glendale. "And not just bowling, any other sports, too. The physical fitness portion helps makes the kids stronger, which can prevent injury. Felix invites me to their bowl-a-thon every year, and I go when I can. It's a fundraiser to help the chapter pay for camps and activities. It brings kids with a similar condition together to let them know they aren't alone."
Bowling also has kept Ingram on his toes in regards to taking his medicine. The last thing he wants to do is miss league or a tournament, so he makes sure to stay current with his medication, which includes giving himself a shot three times a week.
At one point, his dream was to be a touring member of the Professional Bowlers Association. He was a PBA member for three years, and competed in several PBA regional events, but realized with the cost of his medication, which is around $60,000 for a one-month supply, it wasn't a realistic option for him. Thankfully, his role as a medical coder at E and A Medical Billing comes with employee benefits that help him with the costs.
Ingram's family, which includes his girlfriend, Summer Freeman, his 3-year old daughter, Anjelah, and their unborn son, Elijah, due in August, is his main priority and biggest support system. And although hemophilia is a genetic disorder, neither of his children will have it.
According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the defective genes that cause hemophilia are found on the X chromosome. Females are born with two X chromosomes, while males are born with one X and one Y chromosome.
Only the X chromosome carries the defective gene, so males with the gene on their X chromosome will have the disorder. Females must have it on both to be affected, but only need it on one to be a carrier. For a female to have hemophilia, the mother must be a carrier and the father must have it.
Since Freeman is not a carrier, it means Elijah will not be affected, and Anjelah can only be a carrier, which will not affect her, but could pass the disorder on to her future offspring.
Regardless, Ingram will continue to educate everyone he can about hemophilia, and he'll continue his efforts to promote the sport of bowling. But, since he also loves football, he looks forward to the day he can coach his son on the gridiron.
"I knew before that if I had a son, he would be clear," Ingram said. "It makes me feel safer. I don't have to worry about him. My favorite sport besides bowling is football. I always wanted to play, but because it was a contact sport, I couldn't. I'm just waiting for him to be old enough, so I can coach his Pop Warner team or something. That would be the next best thing."
While Ingram hasn't bowled as much as he did before his daughter was born, his passion never faded, and there was no doubt he'd be on the lanes at the Open Championships this year.
"It's an amazing feeling just to be out there," said Ingram, who is six months away from completing a degree in Health Services Management. "I always think of the expenses, but it's an amazing feeling to compete. Obviously, once you get so good, you get mad when you bowl badly. For me, no matter what the lane conditions are, I'm just happy I still am able to bowl. It's frustrating when I don't bowl well, but when it comes down to it, it's a sport. You have to enjoy what you do. I'm just lucky I'm able to compete. "
Ingram finished his 2012 campaign with 616 in doubles, 495 in singles and 489 in team for a 1,600 all-events total.
For more information on the Open Championships, visit BOWL.com/openchamp.
Sponsors for the 2012 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno. Other sponsors include the Belle of Baton Rouge, official brackets sponsor; Kegel, official lane maintenance provider; Humana, official registration sponsor; Bud Light and Budweiser, official beer sponsors; The Advocate, official publication sponsor; Brunswick, official lane provider; Steltronic, official scoring system; Storm Bowling Products and Nationwide Insurance.