Nothing was going to stop Lisa Polonczyk from bowling in the 2022 National Senior Games. Not even a broken hand.
Polonczyk, 62, is a National Senior Games veteran, competing since 2013, in swimming and in bowling. She loved the experience and for years she pressured, cajoled and finally tricked her twin, Lori Wareham, to come along.
“She refused to go to nationals. She refused to qualify until I talked her into it,” Lisa said. “When I went to visit her in New Jersey, I said, ‘This weekend, we have plans.’ So, we qualified in New Jersey’s Senior Games.”
To be fair, Wareham, a former Army helicopter pilot, refused because she was teaching school and qualifying was always during the school year. But with her sister in town, and registration already done, her principal gave Lori the go-ahead to miss two days.
That was 2019. They didn’t just qualify; they won the gold. After throwing some gutter balls in her first game, Lori came back with a score of 180 in her second game. “That was a miracle for me, because I never bowl like that,” Wareham said. “My average is a 99.”
Then the National Games were delayed by Covid. Three years later, Lori is now retired from teaching and the twins were finally ready to compete together in Fort Lauderdale. Then, less than two weeks before it was time to head to Florida, Lisa was injured.
“I play senior softball for the Rochester Senior Softball league in Rochester, Minnesota. And I normally play right runner, which is like a right short stop,” Lisa explained. “But that day, the first game of the season, the third baseman didn’t show up; and they said, “Lisa, go to third base.” I’m like, no, no. Because in my mind I’m saying, ‘Everyone gets injured at third base.’”
“Karma,” said Lori.
The only female on her team, Polonczyk headed to third base. The game, well under way, a line drive came screaming at her. Lisa put both hands up, but it was too late. The ball jammed her fingers and badly dislocated a knuckle on her right hand – her bowling hand. She needed stitches, eight screws, two plates and a pin to repair the damage.
“’Doc,’ I said, ‘Can I play, can I bowl left-handed?’ He says, ‘You’re fine from the left hand — don’t do anything with that right hand. It’s going to be three to six months.’”
Polonczyk had four days to learn to bowl left-handed before leaving for the National Senior Games. It was a challenge.
“That is the perfect word, because now I have to change my slider on my foot, approach on the opposite foot…hold the ball in this weak (left) hand,” said Polonczyk. “I try to just keep it straight, throw it down the lines and hope that it doesn’t go right or left into the gutter. It’s like a 50/50 shot.”
The day after Polonczyk got out of the hospital, she went in to bowl, starting at the line and getting used to swinging the ball on her left side. Her score was in the 70s. The next day it was in the 80s, then a 90 and then a 106.
Great progress in four days, but a far cry from her 194 average. Lisa was scheduled to be a part of the NSG team bowling competition, but now she was a liability. Good thing there was an option – Lori.
“I can’t believe they put me, a beginner, on with all the pros,” Wareham said. “And they’re giving me pointers: ‘You’ll have to release with your arms straight up, past your ear. Because you’re going like this, your ball’s going over there. Over your ear, like you’re answering a phone.’ I thought that was cool. Everybody’s been really nice to me.”
Lisa’s mixed doubles partner issued a challenge, saying he’d take whichever twin had the higher game. Lori won by 50 pins.
“You know, what’s really great about this,” said Lori. “This is the first time in our entire life that I’ve ever beat her in anything.”
“Anything,” Lisa echoed. “I remember when we won first place where we tied in a gymnastics competition, she pushed me off the podium.”
“That’s because we had to share the stand and that wasn’t fair,” laughed Lori.
Neither won any ribbons at the 2022 National Senior Games, but they will both be back. They enjoy the people and the opportunity to compete together. And not just in bowling.
“As soon as my hand’s good, I’m going back to softball. I would just not play third base,” Polonczyk said. “All the men, they sent me all the emails saying ‘Lisa, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry you got injured.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m coming back.’”