By Kevin Albarez
BATON ROUGE, La. - Lanson Chien of Metairie, La., bowled in the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships when it visited his home state in 2005 and again in 2012, but his return trip to the Baton Rouge River Center this year had a little different feel to it.
Not long after he bowled in the 2005 event, Hurricane Katrina ripped through Louisiana and forced the evacuation of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. Most people thought they'd be gone for a couple of days, but before they knew it, those days turned into months.
"We left town and went to Jackson, Miss.," said Chien, who made his 46th consecutive appearance at the USBC Open Championships this week. "We thought it would be like a typical hurricane that comes through, and it would only be a couple days before we could go home. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. We stayed in Jackson for three or four weeks."
The high winds and heavy rain pummeled the New Orleans area and eventually caused breaks in the levee, which resulted in massive flooding throughout the city. With much of the area unreachable, most people were forced to move and start over.
Chien, 70, soon found himself back in Baton Rouge, where he'd recently bowled in the Open Championships. He stayed with his daughter, whose job gave her an opportunity to work in Baton Rouge, while thousands of others found shelter inside the River Center, which had been home to the 48-lane tournament venue just a few weeks prior.
"My daughter, who worked at a bank, was asked to work in Baton Rouge," said Chien, who is the New Orleans USBC association manager. "Her job was able to acquire a two-bedroom apartment. We stayed with her there for two months before being able to move back home."
Chien's teammate, Will Kieferle, also from Metairie, stayed with his grandmother in Alabama and tried to get his life back to normal. There were moments where he could not avoid the constant reminders of the devastating disaster that swept through the Crescent City.
"Every time we would go out to eat, they would have the TVs on showing the damage Katrina did," said Kieferle, a seven-time tournament participant, who made his first career march down Center Aisle in 2005. "You'd feel normal when you went outside, but when you would watch TV, you'd feel devastated."
When New Orleans finally reopened, many people returned home to assess the damages. Most of them were not able to move back, but Chien and his family were able to call the area home once again.
"My daughter's house was fine, except for wind damage," Chien said. "My house had between six and eight inches of water in it. We had to stay with my daughter for another two years before we were able to move back into our house."
After staying with his grandmother for a couple months, Kieferle moved back but had to face the reality that his apartment was gone.
"My whole apartment complex was gone," Kieferle said. "The whole first floor was destroyed and had about two or three feet of water. The roof was ripped off and totally destroyed. I was on the second floor, and all the water came pouring down from above. We had no power for a long time, so all the food went bad."
It took months before two of the bowling centers reopened, and when they did, Chien and Kieferle were able to find relief one or two times a week for a couple of hours.
"Bowling has always been my life," said Chien, who made his Open Championships debut at the 1967 event in Miami and finished ninth in singles in Reno, Nev., in 1977. "The bowling centers closed for four or five months. Before the storm, we had six or seven in the city. We currently have two. I was having bowling withdrawals. Before Katrina, I had at least 20 bowling balls in my house. My wife would not let me touch them after they were in water for that long. The only ones I kept were the ones we were able to bring with us when we left."
Kieferle, a 29-year-old right-hander, shared similar feelings about the sport.
"Bowling means everything to me," Kieferle said. "I was bowling three or four times a week, but after the storm, I was only able to bowl one league. I had to go back to work and help gut houses. At least I was able to relax for a couple hours a week."
Almost seven years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Chien and his Storm Survivors teammates returned to the Baton Rouge River Center and shot games of 774, 848, and 985 for a 2,607 team total.
Chien finished his 2012 campaign with 509 in doubles, 499 in singles and 467 in team for a 1,475 all-events total. Kieferle had 591 in singles, 547 in team and 521 in doubles for 1,659.
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.