Past Masters champion celebrates 50 years of participation at USBC Open Championships

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - On the way to the 1983 United States Bowling Congress Masters title, Mike Lastowski of Aberdeen, Maryland, defeated two of the sport's greatest competitors - Earl Anthony and Pete Weber - on the biggest stage in bowling.

Lastowski again found himself up against two formidable opponents this year as he prepared for another milestone on the championship lanes, but, this time, the battle was more life and death than strikes and spares.

With his 50th appearance at the USBC Open Championships on the horizon, Lastowski began experiencing health issues, and the prognosis was not good. He first was diagnosed with leukemia, and tests and checkups during that process revealed the presence of prostate cancer as well.

In January 2018, with his milestone trip to the Open Championships just four months away, Lastowski had his prostate removed. Like the competitor he is, he immediately wanted to know the likelihood of being recovered in time for his scheduled date at the Oncenter Convention Center.

The 73-year-old right-hander made it to Syracuse this week and became the sixth bowler this year to join the event's 50-Year Club. He was honored on the lanes Monday and presented with a plaque, chevron and diamond lapel pin to commemorate the milestone.

"If I could be here, I was going to be here," Lastowski said. "All the doctors said it would be no problem, and I should be ready to in four weeks. But, their idea of bowling and my idea of bowling are completely different, and I still don't feel quite right, but I'm slowly getting there. I may not be 100 percent, but I'm always going to give 100 percent on the lanes."

As a longtime competitor and past Masters champion, Lastowski has an appreciation for the history and tradition of the Open Championships.

And, after a decade as a field representative for the American Bowling Congress (now USBC), he has a well-rounded perspective about the bowlers, the event and what it takes to make the tournament experience as memorable as it is.

"The one thing that really strikes me about this tournament is that they never forget your accomplishments," Lastowski said. "Whether it be 25 years, a 300 or a win, they always mention that, and it's a good feeling to hear that. It just keeps the history of the event and all that rolling. It's like this whole 50 thing, with the marchout and presentation and such. It's a big deal, and it's something they do to make sure the bowlers and fans never forget about the accomplishments."

Lastowski admits he may never have been the most talented bowler, but he studied the game and learned all he could about its intricacies, so he could use a combination of knowledge and skill to compete alongside the game's top players.

LastowskiMastersForWeb325x183His goal was to prove he could compete at the highest level, and he definitely showed he could do that, highlighted by his performance on the tournament lanes in Niagara Falls, New York, in 1983. He defeated Anthony, 242-200, and then topped Weber, 202-189, for the coveted Masters title.

Lastowski had good company on the Masters TV show, and he now is among bowling royalty as a 50-time participant at the Open Championships.

In all, he has been bowling for 60 years and has won more than 100 tournaments, from small local sweepers, to the Masters. He strives for the feeling of elation that comes with accomplishing something he sets out to do, whether it be a 300 in league or winning a PBA Tour title.

After a lifetime around the game, both as a competitor and an elite-level coach within the Team USA program, Lastowski knows this week's milestone is more about dedication and longevity, with some good fortune mixed in.

"Reaching 50 is a special accomplishment, and it required some good fortune to get there," Lastowski said. "There's a lot of things that could happen along the way, like health issues, financial issues, job and family, but I was lucky. Now, I want to get to 100,000 pins, maybe by my 60th tournament, if I can get past all these curveballs with my health."

When reflecting on his five decades at the Open Championships, Lastowski was not able to select one top moment in his career. Instead, he ranked his first 1,800 all-events total (1,810 in 1971), his Masters win and his 50th appearance as tied for first place in his mind.

In his milestone tournament, Lastowski rolled sets of 495 in singles, 462 in doubles and 455 in team for a 1,412 all-events. In 50 appearances, he has knocked down 85,428 pins for a career average of 192.4.

Lastowski, who is a member of three halls of fame, including the Maryland State USBC Hall of Fame, was appreciative of the teammates by his side this week, but he also made note of those who could not be with him on the tournament lanes, which included past teammates and his wife, Marilyn, who suffers from Alzheimer's and resides in an assisted living facility.

"I am very appreciative of the group I get to bowl with now, and it means a lot to have them here with me, but I also miss my old tournament team," Lastowski said. "That was a lot of fun, and we bowled together for a long time, maybe 25 years. We bowled as a unit and played the lanes together as a group a long time before it was the norm. We had similar styles and great communication. We traveled around the region and bowled in everything we could. We went wherever the action was. A lot of things happened, and there were so many great stories."

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