Vermilyea makes return at USBC Queens

RENO, Nev. - At the 2013 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, Amanda Vermilyea rolled her final strike at the National Bowling Stadium and stepped away from the sport of bowling.

The fire and passion to compete still was there for the former Team USA member and University of Nebraska standout, but the effects of a rare bone disorder known as Klippel-Feil syndrome had taken its toll over the years, so she decided to focus on her family.

In the most fitting reunion, however, Vermilyea returned to the 78-lane NBS - more than five years removed from that moment - to lace up this week at the 2018 USBC Queens.

The 33-year-old right-hander's return to competition was a long and trying process because she was unable to bowl without pain due to her condition.

"I was dealing with a lot of pain in my neck and upper back that caused migraines every time I went out and bowled," Vermilyea said. "I ended up having spinal fusion in 2009 and kept trying to fight through the pain, but being a wife and mother, I knew that was the most important thing, so I decided that was my last tournament. It was a very hard decision to make, but it was the right thing to do."

For more than three years, Vermilyea sat back and watched her husband, Erik, a two-time Open Championships titlist, compete, while their son, PJ, grew into a young man.

With her history in the sport, though, she often faced a tough question.

"I had so many people ask me why I wasn't bowling," said Vermilyea, who lives in Apple Valley, Minnesota. "They would tell me I'm so young and should be bowling. After a while, I thought, 'You are young. You should try to get back out there and figure out a way to bowl where it doesn't hurt.'"

The NBS also served as the backdrop for the next step in Vermilyea's story. At the 2016 Open Championships in Reno, several of her husband's teammates and friends made her an offer she couldn't pass up.

"I came out here to watch Erik bowl," Vermilyea said. "A few of the girls on his companion team - Brandy Sanderson, Kiyoko McDonald and Kristin Warzinski, told me they would open up a spot for me the following year in Las Vegas if I would come back and bowl. That really gave me the drive to get back out and bowl. I'm really thankful for them, because that's why I'm out here today."

Vermilyea made that appearance last year at the South Point Bowling Plaza, but the initial steps to getting back on the lanes were arduous. She started by walking to the foul line to deliver the ball, and she slowly worked in a one-step delivery, which lasted for about two months.

Vermilyea then expanded her approach to three steps, but she would let the ball hang by her side.

"I did a three-step approach with the ball at my side for probably a year," Vermilyea said. "I didn't want to incorporate a pushaway because that's where it hurt me the most, since it was so long and jerky."

When she decided to try and return to a four-step approach with a pushaway, she was surprised by the results.

"I decided I was just going to give it a shot," Vermilyea said. "By doing the three-step approach for that long, I wasn't jerky anymore. Now, I'm able to do my full four-step approach and pushaway, and it's been working out great. It took a lot of hard work, but I'm very, very happy to be out here."

The push to test herself at the Queens this week came from her bowling ball sponsor, Brunswick, after a camp at the end of March, and now that she's in Reno, she has set her sights on advancing to the tournament's double-elimination match-play bracket.

"My goal was to come out here, have a good time and enjoy the experience," Vermilyea said. "The last time I bowled a major was the U.S. Women's Open in 2011, and I haven't been to the Queens since 2009. It's been a long time, but I would really like to make the bracket. I know I just need to make one shot at a time and cover my spares."

Through Thursday's opening round of qualifying, Vermilyea finds herself just outside the cut with 10 games left in qualifying. She's just 11 pins back after posting a five-game block of 1,037, a 207.4 average.

After 15 games over three days, total pinfall will determine the 63 players who will join defending champion Diana Zavjalova of Latvia in match play.

One of the major differences from her last major championship appearances, however, is her biggest fan cheering from home.

"PJ wasn't even a year old when I stopped bowling," Vermilyea said. "I showed him some YouTube videos of when I made the U.S. Women's Open telecast, and he thought it was so cool, and it's fun to have him watch me now. He's starting to get into bowling and really has fun with it, so we hope he's going to be a bowler, too."