2010 HOF Profiles: Kim Terrell-Kearney

If Kim Terrell-Kearney’s leap from a teenager whose interest in bowling “faded through high school” to the USBC Hall of Fame seems implausible to you, don’t worry — it seems just as implausible to Kim Terrell-Kearney.

“Yeah, that’s a pretty big leap, isn’t it?” says Terrell-Kearney, the 1989 Ladies Professional Bowlers Tour Rookie of the Year who went on to claim two U.S. Women’s Open titles in addition to a Queens championship.

“We didn’t have high school bowling in California, so I was kind of an average player then. It wasn’t until college that I found my way and things started making sense,” the former San Jose State star explains. “It was a steady transition. College bowling was my thing — I loved the team portion of it, so I kept working each summer and got better. I never really intended to go on tour, though — that wasn’t my dream by any means.”

As Terrell-Kearney now knows well, there’s one strange thing about dreams: If you don’t find them first, sometimes they find you. With three major titles to her credit, the woman who thought she would spend her life as a physical therapist knows exactly where her dreams are found these days. The problem is that they just won’t stay put.

Since her days as that young college star who was just trying to make sense of things, Terrell-Kearney’s dreams have compiled the itinerary of a traveling diplomat, from her San Francisco youth to the head coaching position at Delaware State University and, most recently, to the International Bowling Campus in Arlington, Texas, where she works with Team USA Head Coach Rod Ross.

It’s the time in between those stops, though, that was especially hard for Terrell-Kearney.

“You miss a lot of birthdays and holidays the normal person takes for granted,” she says of her days roaming the country as a full-time player on the now-defunct PWBA tour. “The Fourth of July, those Memorial Day picnics, driving down the highway looking at people cooking in the back yard while we’re on our way to Rockford. The traveling remains the hardest part, just being away from my family so much.”

Those long days of watching the lives of others fly past the window of her Ford Expedition on the way to another tour stop may be well behind her now, but the competitive fire that kept her on the road all those years still burns just as hot.

“Oh yeah, I don’t like losing,” she insists on the heels of a dissatisfying performance at the 2010 USBC Queens in El Paso. “I was just infuriated that I lost last week. There were moments just a couple days ago when I was sitting in my seat thinking to myself, ‘I don’t get to bowl anymore.’”

Those are the bitter moments Terrell-Kearney remembers now as vividly as any of the triumphs that destined her for the Hall of Fame. The Wednesday nights she spent crying after missing the cut on tour, the moments when even the 10 titles she collected were not enough to keep away the thought that she wasn’t good enough, the daily calls from renowned mental-game coach Dr. Dean Hinitz asking her if today was the day she planned on being a champion.

“Every day that I bowled, he’d call,” Terrell-Kearney says of those phone calls with Dr. Dean. “We’d talk, and then he’d say ‘OK, who are you going to be tomorrow?’ Well, I have trouble saying things that I don’t think I can follow through with, so I’d say ‘I can’t promise that I am going to be brave and gutty; I can’t promise you that because I don’t want to break my promise.’

“So he’d say ‘OK, call me tomorrow and leave a message, and tell me who you’re going to be.’ So we’d hang up and I’d lay there all night trying to build up this bravery, and I’d leave a message saying ‘I’m going to do this.’ And I’d write it on a piece of paper and keep it in my pocket that day; it would say things like ‘Gutty,’ and all through the day I would think ‘That is who I want to be, because when it’s over, I’ve got to be able to look in the mirror and be OK with who I was.’”

Whether you’re the winner of three majors or an upstart bowler out of college looking to confirm a gnawing suspicion that you’ve got what it takes, sometimes that voice telling you that you can’t do it is the most formidable opponent you will ever face.

In the Hall of Fame career of Kim Terrell-Kearney, that voice was the first opponent she had to beat each week if she was to have any chance of moving on.

“That Wednesday night I am thinking ‘I am the worst there is; I have nothing that these girls have that win,’” Terrell-Kearney explains. “And then Thursday night I am trying to pull it together, and then Friday in the car I am trying to get pumped up for the next week. But inevitably, every Monday I was back at the next tournament thinking that I could win. It was just this sort of rebuilding process I had to go through every week.”

If the dreams that Terrell-Kearney pursued from one town to the next left their bruises along the way, they are the bruises that those destined for Hall of Fame status endure if they are going to be great. But dreams are not the only thing Terrell-Kearney chases around the country and, as a former Team USA Member, around the world.

She also chases history, defeating Trisha Reid to win the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open in the first title match in bowling history to feature two African-Americans. By then, Terrell-Kearney had made a habit of making history. Before claiming her first U.S. Women’s Open title in 2001, the entire PWBA tour threatened to pull out of the tournament until their prize fund matched that of the men’s U.S. Open — and were rewarded with the largest prize fund in the history of women’s bowling, including a total tournament purse of $300,000 and a first-place check for $55,000.

“I am really proud of the fact that we stood together,” she said at the time. “I think it was really important. I had a lot of passion for our cause. I just couldn't with good conscience compete in an event that didn't treat us equally.”

Terrell-Kearney was not alone in her pride, though, as a congratulatory message left on her cell phone by none other than tennis legend Billie Jean King confirmed.

“It was just the most amazing voicemail," Terrell-Kearney said of the tennis legend’s support. "To listen to someone of that caliber as an athlete, just the legendary things she's done in the sport of tennis."

If Terrell-Kearney ever pauses to reflect on her achievements in a sport that was not even her highest ambition when she entered college, she does not linger long over those memories. Instead, she sees her new role as assistant head coach with Team USA as a chance to learn even more and sees room for improvement as a coach — this after winning Coach of the Year honors for guiding the DSU Women’s Bowling Team to a 119-38 record and their first MEAC championship in 2009.

“I get to work with some of the best coaches in the country, and I will only get better,” she says of her position in Arlington. “And I get to work every day with Rod Ross, who has been my coach and mentor for years.”

In the meantime, though, Terrell-Kearney has some business with the USBC Hall of Fame. On May 12, she will be inducted into the Hall for superior performance along with PBA Hall of Famer Marshall Holman.

“I was never thinking it would be a Hall of Fame career,” Terrell-Kearney says of the days of phone calls from Dr. Dean and those difficult Wednesday nights. “It’s still shocking to think that I will be inducted into the Hall of Fame the same year as someone like Marshall Holman. I mean, it’s Marshall Holman!

“I’m proud of what I have done in the sport, but it’s still difficult to see my name in the same sentence as some of these players,” Terrell-Kearney concedes. “These are people who changed the sport; they are icons in the sport. I still don’t feel like I live in the same company as them. And that’s real. It’s not just being modest; it’s real.”