With a look of sheer determination, Bill Miller carefully calculates where to aim his bowling ball.
He releases it. There’s a couple seconds of suspense as the ball rolls down the alley and awaits its destiny. Then he hears that beautiful sound that makes all bowlers smile: The clankety-clank noise as the ball crashes into the front pin, causing the other nine pins to begin falling like dominoes.
Spares and strikes are nothing new to Bill, an avid 41-year-old bowler who resides in Leesburg. In fact, he once bowled seven consecutive strikes en route to setting a new world record.
What makes his accomplishments so extraordinary is that he has no use of his arms or legs.
In 1997 Bill, then a 20-year-old student attending the University of Florida, tripped over a piece of exercise equipment in the middle of the night and landed awkwardly. He became a c1-2 quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down.
Facing a severe life-altering disability, Bill would discover hope through tragedy. It just required a little creative thinking and some adaptive technology.
In 2002, he met Claude Giguere, a retired engineer who wanted to help Bill experience the thrill of bowling. After much discussion, they came up with the idea of a stationary ramp that attaches to a power wheelchair, allowing the user to control the bowling ball and execute shots. Claude utilized his engineering skills to invent the ideal wheelchair-bowling ramp, which was aptly named the IKAN (pronounced“I can”) Bowler® bowling device.
Learning how to use the device opened up a new world for Bill. With a bowling ball placed atop the ramp, Bill would sip and puff on a mouthpiece to direct his wheelchair to the foul line. He then stopped, which released the ball down the lane. The speed of the ball and accuracy of the shot is dependent on how he maneuvers his wheelchair.
Having the ability to bowl gave Bill a much-needed sense of freedom and independence. He wanted other quadriplegics to experience those feelings, too.
So in 2002, Bill, along with several friends, formed a bowling group called the “Quad Squad.” Bill and his fellow bowling buddies are still going strong 16 years later. Today, “Quad Spuad” bowlers regularly gather for games on the second Saturday of each month at AMF Leesburg Lanes and on the fourth Saturday of each month at Break Point Alley in Tavares.
LoveExtenstion, a Umatilla-based, nonprofit organization, pays for bowling fees, and several of the organization’s volunteers serve as caddies.
“Members of our Quad Squad Group have changed over the years,” Bill wrote in an email interview. “Four friends who were regulars are now deceased, underscoring the importance of making the most of the time we have. Most of us are physically dependent on others. For example, I am paralyzed from the neck down and cannot feed myself. Yet, I can drive my wheelchair with my mouth, and if you attach an IKAN Bowler to my wheelchair, I can be in control of my bowling game. Think about that for a moment. For someone who uses a power wheelchair, that first spare and first strike in particular are genuine thrills.”
While “Quad Squad” members enjoy the camaraderie of bowling, games do become quite competitive.
“Like any other sport or recreational activity, we do it because it is fun, and we enjoy it, but it’s nice to be able to compete, also,” he wrote. “Bowling is kind of like golf in the sense that your score depends on how well you execute shots independent of your playing partners, but at the end of the day, who doesn’t want to have the best score?”
Bill’s highest score came in February 2012 at Spanish Springs Lanes in The Villages. On that unforgettable day, he rolled seven straight strikes and finished up with a score of 255. It was significant because he set a new world record for dynamic wheelchair bowling.
For Bill, that achievement came with a dose of humility. He gives all credit to God. However, it did require a little strategizing on his part.
“Your knowledge of your bowling ball and its positioning atop your IKAN Bowler for the shape of shot you want, your initial positioning on the lane, the angle at which you approach the foul line, the angle at which you stop … all those factor into how well you bowl,” he wrote. “Further, I try to adjust to the lane conditions, which is something I knew nothing about when I first started bowling. Whether the lanes are recently oiled or dry, what oil pattern the bowling alley used … those are things I have learned a bit about. I try to adjust my approach depending on how the ball reacts to the lane conditions that day.”
Of course, like any athlete, they experience those days when they’re not on top of their game. However, that never stops “Quad Squad” members from impressing their able-bodied counterparts.
“People who come talk to me at the bowling alley usually say they are impressed,” Bill wrote. “And their smiles say they are uplifted by seeing what we can do. My average is about 150, and plenty of people have told me they cannot break 100. But even really good able-bodied bowlers have been impressed by some of the shots we have made and scores we’ve put up.”
The odds that Bill and his quadriplegic friends walk again may be slim, but they’ve never given up on living life to the fullest. For them, bowling is right up their alley.