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Worsening wrist catalyst for my semi-retirement — 30-plus years after surgeon said it would

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Saturday, December 31, 2022 9:00 am
Worsening wrist catalyst for my semi-retirement — 30-plus years after surgeon said it would
One of my I AM Bowling jerseys with Storm and Turbo logos.

This is a story I was supposed to write more than 30 years ago: a transition to bowling semi-retirement due to the wrist I broke at age 10 in 1972 and delayed going to the doctor to get set because it was thought to be just a sprain.

I had carpal tunnel surgery with Dr. Harvey Barash in Madison in 1985, and that had me bowling physically the strongest I ever was until the wear and tear of being on the PBA Tour in 1987 and 1988 ultimately led to bone-graft reconstructive surgery in 1989 with the man who was then the world’s best hand surgeon, Dr. Ronald Linscheid of the Mayo Clinic.

Before the surgery, Dr. Linscheid told me I’d probably never bowl competitively at a high level again and I was fine with that, as I just wanted to be able to use my wrist for normal stuff like writing.

But he underestimated his skills and my will, dedication to rehab and pain tolerance, as my record attests: 28 of my 30 PBA Regional titles and four of my five Eagles followed that surgery and the clean-up surgery he did later in 1989.

Dr. Linscheid was correct that I was likely to see weakening in my wrist with age: I made it back to 15 pounds in late 1989 and 16 by late 1990, but dropped back to 15 in 2003-04, and to 14 a few years ago.

Those drops came as my wrist lost flexibility and strength, and that deterioration has continued to the point where it bends only a few degrees forward and back, compared to the 30 degrees or so after Dr. Linscheid’s work.

It’s also gotten to where two days of effective bowling (for age 60) is really my limit: Coming off at least a few days of rest, I am decent for a day, OK for a second day, and so ineffective on a third day and beyond to the point where it’s pointless for me to bowl.

When I did no bowling (such as the Bowlers Journal or team practice) in the days prior to the 2022 USBC Open Championships, my 2,061 all-events total was my best performance since 2,051 in 2009. Yes, the softer conditions helped, but I’m certain I wouldn’t have come close to 2,000-plus if I’d bowled the Bowlers Journal and/or team practice as I’ve done most recent years.

My limits really slapped me in the face at the PBA50 and PBA60 stops I bowled in Jackson, Michigan in August.

I skipped the practice session and was 24th after the first round of the 2022 PBA50 David Small’s JAX 60 Open then fell to 40th after the second round, earning a super senior check.

Since I didn’t make the cut, I had a day off before the PBA60 Dick Weber Classic, but one day was not enough as I missed cashing in 53rd, completely unable to take advantage of a 45-foot lane pattern I felt fit my game — at least what it used to be.

Those two tournaments were the catalyst for my formal announcement today that I am semi-retiring from bowling.

Reinforcement came at the end of September, when I bowled and made the cut in a MAST at Bowl-A-Vard Lanes on Saturday and made the stepladder at an Iowa SSBA in Cedar Rapids on Sunday. My wrist was so stiff and sore that Monday that I would not have even tried to bowl in anything unless I absolutely had to.

And then I made the cut to bracket match play in the main event of the SPSSS in Las Vegas in November, which was the third day of that competition. Lance Lorfeld eliminated me in the first round of match play and all I felt was relief that I didn’t have to bowl anymore. 

Shortly after we flew home, I let Storm, Turbo and I AM Bowling know that I wasn't interested in a contract for 2023 (and beyond).

My decision has zero to do with the three great companies I've been with for years and 100% about me feeling unworthy of being a staff player and no longer wanting to be a serious enough competitor to fulfill even the minimal obligations of a staffer. I'd feel way too much guilt to do that.

I am going to bowl some local tournaments that are fun or correspond with seeing friends and/or family and/or casino trips.  

The one serious competition I will focus on is the Open Championships, where my turning 60 last summer allows us to put our Eagle-winning team back together: McDowell, Richter, Richgels, Myers, Shady. It would mean the world to me for us to make another run or two at an Eagle with those guys.

But when I get home from Reno in early May, my bowling balls will be put away until the next bowling season.

That means I will not bowl any PBA50 competition, though I aim to make a trip to hang out for a couple of days at a PBA50 stop, see friends, hit a casino, etc.

I tentatively plan to compete in the 2023 South Point Super Senior Shootout, but that is because it gives me a tax deductible trip to Las Vegas, and it probably would be unwise of me not to take Susie Fever to Vegas for that week.

The bottom line is that if I don't feel capable of competing in PBA50 and PBA60 events, I don't feel worthy of being a staffer.

I absolutely will remain a staffer in my heart with Storm, Turbo and I AM Bowling, and will use and wear only their products, which I gladly will pay for.

But I don’t plan to order any bowling balls in 2023, as I feel like my arsenal is fine for the limited bowling I will be doing. If some new Storm Products release looks so great I feel like I need it, I will buy it.

I apologize to those who enjoy my ball reviews as that means after I finish the handful I still need to do from balls I’ve ordered this year there will be no more ball reviews at 11thFrame.com — except on the rare occasions I buy a new ball.

Another factor in my decision to semi-retire is that in my adult life, I have gone on almost no vacations (beyond weekend getaways) that didn’t involve bowling.

I’ve never been on a cruise. I’ve never been to Europe. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, etc. Susie’s sister’s family owns an oceanfront beach house in Alabama that we can use free and we’ve been to it once — after the 2012 Open Championships in Baton Rouge. Out-of-state family visits typically happened when bowling trips enabled them.

It’s time for us to do the things we want to do before we get too old to do them.

I am 100% at peace with the decision I’ve made. Heck, I made peace with bowling retirement in 1989, but was fortunate enough — with the help of far too many people to list individually here — to get a decades-long reprieve during which I achieved everything I dreamed of in bowling other than winning a PBA Tour title.

There is nothing but thankfulness and joy in that.