Jason Belmonte's exemption in the Professional Bowlers Association this season opens a new frontier in a sport that has seen as many new eras as a high school history text book. With the two-handed bowling phenomenon now in full bloom, the man known only as "Belmo" completes a trinity of two-handed specialists on the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour this year that includes Finland's Osku Palerma and Team USA's Cassidy Schaub. But there is one two-handed bowler for whom the style is not just about 600 revs per minute and a violent collision of pins; it also makes bowling accessible to those who otherwise would never be able to compete.
"With one hand my ball goes dead straight. I don't have good wrist position, but with two hands I was able to see my ball hook and carry," Cassidy Schaub explains of how he too became a two-handed bowler. But the challenges confronting Ryan Lingholm of Boynton Beach, Fla. do not end with a mere adjustment of the wrist or a second hand.
"I have arthrogryposis," Lingholm explains. "It's a dysfunction that I can't extend my arms all the way and my wrists don't go to zero degree level anymore or past that. I just have limited mobility, so that was the only way I could throw the bowling ball and so that's how I throw it."
Arthrogryposis restricts the range of motion in the joints and, in its most severe form, effects every joint in the body. In Lingholm's case, the disease affects his wrists and shoulders, leaving his wrists permanently bent and potentially prohibiting him from bowling at all if it were not for the two-handed method.
But Lingholm does not just "throw it" that way; he scores that way, posting a 211 average for the 2008-2009 league season and competing recently at the Junior Gold Championships in Indianapolis. And if you think Ryan Lingholm devotes much time to shame or pity, think again.
"Bowling is my life. I finally shot 300 in Oct. '07. I'm crippled (and don't care about what people think about me)," he writes in his MySpace profile.
Lingholm's habit of adjusting to his circumstance without the slightest trace is self-pity is exactly the reason that, just weeks into her job as manager of the AMF bowling center in Boynton Beach where Lingholm works, Maureen Delvin has already found in Lingholm one of the most inspiring people she has ever met.
"I don't have the audacity to say I have any problems," Delvin says after watching Lingholm work. "You have to be multi-tasked to work here. You're working the counter, you're welcoming someone to the center, you're going to a computer and putting them on the lane, then you're ringing the sale up in the cash register, then you're getting them a pair of shoes, then sometimes you may have to put up bumpers. He is doing all that in addition to answering all the phones, using a pen, using a pencil, using the stapler, using tape. I'm a new manager here and when they brought Ryan to my attention I looked at him and I thought 'Can he do all that?' They said 'Watch.' Quite honestly, you look at him and you wonder how he can do all that."
No one, though, derives as much inspiration from Ryan Lingholm as his mother, Jeannette.
"He is basically the one who brought me out of my depression after my accident," Lingholm's mother explains of the aftermath of an accident in which a man feuding with his wife outside a daycare "floored it" and totaled her van, leaving her with chronic pain, in need of hip surgery, unable to work and reliant on a host of pain medications whose effects only distanced her further from her children.
"I just wasn't myself. I knew it was hurting my kids seeing me like that. It was hard, it was hard on Ryan. I didn't know what to do, I was in a deep depression and it was my son that snapped me out of it," she says of her son Ryan. "He just said 'Mom, I know you're in pain, and I know that financially we're losing everything, but we have one another.' He said 'So what if we lose everything? We'll get it back. You just have to think positive.' I lost my house to foreclosure, I lost everything. But like Ryan says, we'll start over, we'll get back up on our feet."
With Ryan's mother away for 13 weeks at a time doing contract work as an occupational therapist, he has learned much sooner than others his age about what it takes to stay on your feet. Lingholm, now 18 years old, takes care of his younger sister in his mother's absence while also taking care of groceries and meals, laundry, cleaning, enrolling himself in school and funding his own lunches there as well as funding his own meals when he is away at bowling tournaments, and forwarding bills to his mother when she is on the road.
"Without my job I wouldn't be doing anything," Ryan says. "I can't get any money from my mom and I don't have a dad."
While the expense of tuition prevented Lingholm from trying out for the increasingly visible University of Central Florida bowling team, Lingholm does not plan to let anything keep him off the lanes-not money, not arthrogryposis, not anything.
"I bowl every chance I get. I'm going to the Loschetter tournament this weekend," Ryan says of the tournament series conducted for USBC Youth bowlers throughout the state of Florida by PBA exempt player Chris Loschetter. "When I shot 300 in my high school league I knew I was able to compete, so I started bowling tournaments. I would like to win another Loschetter title and bowl a 300 game in a sport league."