The PWBA burst back onto the scene in 2015 thanks to a three-year funding commitment from the USBC and BPAA, giving a generation of female bowlers a new platform to show off their abilities. The 2018 PWBA season consists of 13 events, which includes nine standard tournaments and four majors, and is currently in full swing.
I recently had a chance to connect with some of the PWBA’s talented athletes to get their thoughts on the PWBA Tour, learn about how they manage life on the road, and get their best tips for the next generation of aspiring professionals.
The PWBA Tour life
There are many aspects of tour life that PWBA fans don’t often think about that must be dealt with when traveling from event to event.
“It’s quite brutal, honestly,” Storm’s Danielle McEwan told us. “Every weekend is jam-packed between travel, practice, meetings, competing, and pro-ams. Dinner on Friday night is always a challenge. There is a major decision to make in weighing the importance of food over sleep after such a long day of qualifying. The biggest challenge definitely comes after a rough weekend, when you have just three days to get yourself together both physically and mentally to be ready for the next event.”
Brunswick’s Liz Kuhlkin told us, “It’s difficult to avoid eating badly while on the road. There are a lot of poor options, especially when you have to eat fast. I am fortunate when I’m at home, as I came from a household with a lot of home-cooked meals. I try to stay in hotels that have kitchenettes so that I can purchase food and cook myself. It is important to have a good breakfast and a lean and green dinner.”
“The hardest thing to do is find healthy food options when you’re on the road. Our days are really long, so by the time you leave the center there are not a lot of places open,” Hammer’s Shannon O’Keefe told us. “Last year, I started bringing AdvoCare meal replacement shakes and I will continue to do so this summer. I might even stop at a grocery store to pick up items for the room so I don’t have to eat fast food. You basically just need to make an effort to make good choices to fuel your body properly.”
“There is not a lot of free time while you’re on the road,” Mrs. O’Keefe continued. “Not only am I on the road all summer for the PWBA Tour, but I’m on the road all year with my collegiate team. I have found myself spending most of my free time in the gym getting my workouts in. I work out with my college team a few days a week, and I run A LOT. I also do body weight squats, lunges, Bulgarian squats, and core work.”
“I like to go for runs in every city we visit, just to get to know the surrounding areas and also to get a sweat in,” Motiv’s Maria Jose Rodriguez told us. “We have a gym membership countrywide, so we try to hit the gym or the pool a couple days a week, depending on the tournament and the schedule. I have to push and stay disciplined. I manage my rest and gym with a personal trainer who has my schedule and tells me when I can push and when I have to rest, even when I don’t want to.”
Ms. McEwan added, “When I’m home training, I’m in the gym every day. I rotate between cardio, HIIT workouts, and lifting, with the main focus being on legs and core. When I’m on the road, obviously it’s very difficult to keep up the same routine, but I usually try to get in at minimum a few good cardio and core sessions each weekend and then it’s back to the normal routine during the week.”
“It is very important to keep your legs in shape,” Ms. Kuhlkin informed us. “All parts of your body are important, but having your legs underneath you is very important when you’re getting into these long 12-hour days. I am not a huge runner, but I do a lot of cardio on the treadmill.”
As you can see, all of these athletes agree that working out, eating right, and building up leg strength are important things to focus on when you’re looking to be competitive in today’s bowling scene. These are things that most average sports fans would never think of as a focus area for professional bowlers behind the scenes.
Tips for up-and-coming female bowlers
It isn’t every day that you get to pick the brains of athletes at the top of a profession and ask them for tips. I always find it intriguing to know what advice professional players find important to pass onto the next generation of competitors.
“My best advice would be to practice hard and dream big,” McEwan said. “Every single one of us on the PWBA Tour was once in their shoes wondering if we could make it. Hard work goes a long way.”
Ms. Rodriguez offered the following advice: “First of all, give it a try! You never know if you are ready until you are out there. There is so much to learn and experience on tour; it’s something you don’t want to miss.”
Mrs. O’Keefe, who is currently the McKendree University women’s bowling coach, informed us that she tells her collegiate ladies that “knowledge in this game is power.”
“Learn as much as you can about lane play, bowling balls, and how to become more versatile with your release and ball speed,” she continued. “Dream big, and if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough. You will have to work hard and fight for what you want, as nothing is given and everything is earned, so don’t give up. Keep fighting.”
Speaking of dreams, Ms. Kuhlkin offered similar advice. “Stick to a dream and never stop running towards it,” she told us. “Don’t listen to people when they tell you that you can’t do something. Reach for the stars and always aspire to be the best.”
While having a strong mental game is extremely important when competing at this level, that doesn’t mean that you can let your physical game take a back seat.
“Know your equipment and DON’T push the reset button during practice,” Ms. Kuhlkin said. “Always practice your spares. Practicing by yourself with a camera recording is helpful. Watching film is a good way to see progress.”
Ms. Rodriguez also emphasized how important practicing your spare shooting is in order to be competitive on the professional level. “Spares are key,” she said. “I shoot a lot of spares each week and that was the only way I got better at them. Being as important as they are, every bowler should give them the time they deserve. I come up with practice patterns before a specific tournament, depending on the amount of games I am about to bowl.”
“College bowling is the best practice you can have to be ready for the tour,” Ms. Rodriguez added. “I wish the PWBA was around when I graduated, as I felt my sharpest and in my best condition at that time.”
“I tell my girls that making spares on tour is most important,” Mrs. O’Keefe said. “I would tell anyone looking to make it to the next level to focus on shot repeatability and spare shooting.”
There was a time in recent history when females were forced to compete on the PBA Tour if they aspired to be a professional bowler. While some ladies do continue to compete with the men from time to time, it is refreshing that these talented athletes have a platform on which they can compete against each other.
“We are extremely fortunate to be able to be professionals in a sport we all love,” Kuhlkin said. “I, personally, am thankful and grateful for all of the places that professional bowling has taken me. I feel very blessed to be able to do what I do year in and year out with the PWBA Tour.”
Ms. McEwan told us, “I love everything about the PWBA Tour! I love traveling, visiting different cities, and meeting people from all over the world while doing what I love.”
There is some “behind the scenes work” that goes into this lifestyle too, Danielle told us. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
“There are things that go along with the ‘road warrior lifestyle’ that people may not think about, such as booking and planning all of our own travel,” McEwan said. “This means booking flights to and from every city and/or driving from stop to stop. This also includes finding and booking hotels at a reasonable distance to the bowling center and the airport; reserving, picking up, and dropping off your rental car; making sure all of your tournament entries are completed; and figuring out how to get 25 bowling balls from city to city! Being an expert Tetris player using three-ball rollers in a tiny rental car is a must.”
Maria Jose Rodriguez expressed similar thoughts, as she told us, “[The PWBA] Tour life is just like any other sport. We fly from one city to another, get a hotel, a flight, and a rental car. We try to stay in shape and attempt to eat as healthy as we can while on the road. It is pretty exciting because this time of year, and the competition against our peers, is what we work all year long for.”
Ms. McEwan also expressed her excitement on the PWBA’s resurrection. “The PWBA is a dream come true. To have a platform to compete on week in and week out against the best women from all around the world is truly amazing. It is unbelievable how much progress we have made in just three short years, and I can’t wait to see the PWBA continue to branch out and grow.”
Finally, we wanted to hear what Mrs. O’Keefe, the early leader in the clubhouse for 2018 PWBA Player of the Year, thought about the PWBA life and what the future looks like for the tour. “Tour life for everyone is a little different,” she explained. “For me, it’s a ton of travel due to the fact that I still have a full-time job as well, so I fly back and forth between every stop so that I can work Monday through Wednesday, and then I’m back at it. However, I feel so incredibly blessed to have a job that allows me to chase my dreams and I thank God every day for giving me the drive and opportunity to do what I love at the level I want.”
“I always dreamed of there being a relaunch of the PWBA,” Shannon continued, “and it came at the perfect time. Collegiate bowling is growing. Now there is something after these ladies’ college careers come to end that will allow them to continue chasing their dreams. I’m beyond blessed to be able to coach at the collegiate level and mentor some of these young ladies and then, once they graduate, I get to compete right alongside of them.”
When I was growing up, I remember watching PWBA legends such as Lisa Wagner, Cheryl Daniels, and Wendy Macpherson just as much as I watched PBA players like Pete Weber, Norm Duke, and Parker Bohn III. The women always seemed to be such quality shotmakers with great fundamentals and it was such a joy to watch them compete. I was heartbroken when I found out that the PWBA Tour went under.
Like with the current PBA, the next generation of talent on the PWBA Tour is incredibly talented and hungry to compete. Hopefully, this version of the PWBA will be around for a number of years and will offer all of these talented ladies an opportunity to make a living doing what they love, while giving them a platform to show that they are just as talented as their PBA counterparts.
The PWBA is loaded with talent from all over the globe. And the next generation of players—many of whom are currently competing on the college level—are ready to show that women’s bowling is alive and well.