Team USA excels at inaugural IBF Para Bowling World Championships in Dubai

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - American Wheelchair Bowling Association Chairman Eddy Hutchens said one of the main focuses of the AWBA is getting people out of their homes and onto the lanes.

Hutchens used this week as the ultimate lead-by-example opportunity by traveling nearly 8,000 miles from Franktown, Colorado, to Dubai to represent Team USA at the inaugural International Bowling Federation Para Bowling World Championships from Nov. 13-16.

The AWBA's top-ranked scratch player led a contingent of four bowlers into the Dubai International Bowling Centre, and all four team members will return to the United States with countless memories and at least one gold medal.

He was joined in the trailblazing effort by Shawn Beam of Burleson, Texas, Debra Freed of Framingham, Massachusetts, and Toodie Perry of Bakersfield, California, and they were among 21 bowlers from four countries competing for medals in singles, doubles, mixed doubles and mixed team.

The participating nations included Hong Kong, India, Thailand and the United States.

Team USA won eight of the 20 medals available, and Hutchens was the first of the group to strike gold, taking home the men's singles title to kick off the tournament.Eddy Hutchens singles gold 2021 Para Bowling World Championships

He was the top seed after six games of qualifying at the Dubai International Bowling Centre and defeated Thailand's Suphan Sinthusuwan, 165-116, to claim his place in the record book.

Not only was the accomplishment noteworthy from a historic perspective, it also was special because the gold-medal match took place on a one-of-a-kind stage under the Dubai night sky.

The custom two-lane venue was created for the medal rounds of the 2021 IBF Super World Championships and also hosted the men's and women's singles finals of the Para Bowling World Championships.

The setup was built outside in the Sports, Fitness and Wellbeing Hub at Expo 2020 Dubai, a multicultural event that includes exhibits from more than 190 countries and will last six months.

"To represent the United States this week, and to be the first ever to bring back a world championship - there are no words to describe it," Hutchens said. "It's right up there with when my boys were born. It's tears in the eyes. It was a national anthem like never before. There were goosebumps, and I don't get goosebumps, but I did when I got the call that I was going to be on Team USA, and then last night, it was goosebumps and smiles galore."

Hong Kong's Wong Mei-Lan, the top qualifier on the women's side after six games, defeated Thailand's Chantira Hutinan, 101-70, to become the first Para Bowling world champion in history.

Hutchens went on to medal in every discipline, collecting three gold medals and one silver medal.

He teamed with Beam to win the inaugural doubles event, which featured the same Baker format competitors experienced during the Super World Championships. In Baker doubles, the teammates alternate frames to complete one game.

The duo qualified second overall and earned one of four spots in the bracket-style semifinals.

They dispensed of Thailand's Kampa Pongtao and Choochat Sukjarern, 178-135, before topping their teammates, Sawai Padpong and Samsak Ruamsab, in the final, 159-146.

"It's an amazing feeling to win a gold medal at the inaugural event," said Beam, who in 2012, became the first bowler in a wheelchair to roll a USBC-certified perfect game. "Hearing the phrase world champion is incredible, and there's all kinds of emotions going into that, but it's still very surreal. I hear it, and I know it, but it doesn't register yet. I think once everything is done and we get some time to not worry about competition anymore, it'll hit me."

Beam's 300 game came nearly a decade ago and brought a lot of attention to him, bowling and the AWBA. Even all these years later, the feelings and emotions of that night still are fresh for him, and he tried to compare the two accomplishments.

"This is actually way better, and that's something I was thinking about this morning, before it even happened," Beam said. "The 300 is a very personal thing, but this is for Team USA. It's for our country. It's for an event that has never happened before and is one we want to promote and grow. The magnitude of all that makes it mean so much more. They're both right up there, but this definitely is the best feeling I've ever had."

Beam's week started with a bronze medal in singles. He finished qualifying five pins shy of an opportunity to bowl against Hutchens for the gold medal.

Freed and Perry also made the podium in singles, each earning a bronze medal, and their collective effort in doubles helped them improve to silver. They finished behind Thailand's Hutinan and Paramee Panyachaem.

Hutchens and Perry added a silver medal in mixed doubles, but that only served as a warmup for the coveted team event, where Team USA cruised to the gold medal, outdistancing Thailand, 358-338, in the three-game total-pinfall match. Team also featured a modified Baker format.

"This has been the most amazing thing I've ever done," Perry said. "Being a world champion feels and sounds really, really good."

All of the players admitted they weren't sure what to expect about the event, spotlight and experience, and Hutchens even mentioned being apprehensive about the travel aspect of the opportunity. The pride after it was over was unanimous.

"I really didn't think I'd make it this far, but we did, and it feels incredible," Freed said. "To participate in something that was held for the first time, and to represent the United States - it doesn't get any better than that."

The four newest Team USA members were selected by the United States Bowling Congress National Selection Committee to represent Team USA in the W1 category of the IBF Para Bowling World Championships.

The W1 Para/Amputee Classification incorporates all wheelchair classifications. It includes leg amputees, cerebral palsy (with functional hands), and Les Autres athletes with mobility disfunction. All must compete from a wheelchair and follow the rules of play, along with modified rules established for this discipline.

In future Para Bowling World Championships, there also will be a W2 classification for wheelchair users with quadriplegia. All participants in 2021 chose to compete in the W1 category.

Beyond the competition and the medals is what the event means to the para bowlers and their efforts to grow the sport.

The pins don't know how you get to the foul line, and bowling is something anyone can do.

"People think life is over, and it's not, as I've proven," Hutchens said. "There are babies to be had and families to raise, and the possibilities are endless, as long as you give it a try. It's especially easy in bowling to include everyone."

The Super World Championships was the first event to get going in Dubai and then shared the spotlight with the Para World Championships.

The 2021 IBF Masters (formerly Senior) World Championships got underway Thursday and will be the final event of IBF's stint in the United Arab Emirates. The Masters World Championships will run through Nov. 26.

IBF is providing livestream coverage and complete results for all three events at StrikeCloud.com.

For more information about IBF, visit bowling.sport.