Liz Kuhlkin isn’t quite to the point where she’s ready to scream into a pillow.
She will, however, rifle a bowling ball into one.
The women’s pro tour was supposed to have begun two weekends ago, but instead the Schalmont High graduate and former NCAA Division I Player of the Year at Nebraska has resorted to a makeshift practice “lane” in her basement that consists of a piece of carpeting and some pillows to protect the wall.
As a professional athlete, that’s all she can do for now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but as a bowler with a profound investment in her sport, she was presented with an interesting new opportunity to stay engaged and involved, and accepted it. Kuhlkin was elected to the board of directors of the United States Bowling Congress in April and has welcomed her dual role as a voice not only for Team USA, but for everyday league bowlers whose ranks she still is very much a member.
Although her three-year term, replacing Hall of Famer Kelly Kulick, doesn’t officially begin until Aug. 1, Kuhlkin has already been in on some USBC board conference calls, as the national governing organization discusses future scenarios.
“This has been kind of a depressing time, because it’s not only put bowling on hold, but it’s put my career on hold, since the future of the PWBA this year is yet to be determined,” Kuhlkin said on Tuesday night.
“We’re hoping for a shortened season. It has been kind of depressing, but for this opportunity to come along and happen, it was really amazing timing for me and lifted me up a little bit to be involved.”
Kuhlkin will be one of two Team USA representatives on the 18-member board.
She said it didn’t occur to her that joining the board was something she ought to pursue when the opening first came up, but Kulick encouraged her to throw her name in there.
Kulick’s career is one to which Kuhlkin, who has two PWBA victories, including a major, the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open, under her belt, aspires.
“Kelly is somebody that I’ve idolized since I was very young,” Kulkin said. “I’ve had the opportunity to room with Kelly a couple times on tour, I’m on Team USA with her, so I’ve gotten to know Kelly over the years.
“That’s been really cool in itself. But to have someone like that email you and think of you to serve a position like that and literally follow in her footsteps and fill that role that she had for those years, that was pretty wild.”
Kuhlkin had been in the heart of two league seasons, with the Reis Group Kim Brown Memorial City League and Reis Group Kim Brown Memorial Mixed Doubles, when the pandemic shut down sports across the board in mid-March.
It’s unusual for her to go a week without bowling at least once, so the time off has been a substantial adjustment.
It also gnaws at Kuhlkin that she was in such sharp form in her two scratch leagues and through extra practice, and had been eager to bring that form into the pro season. She was the high-average bowler in both leagues when the shutdown occurred, and both of her teams were in strong position, too. Now, she has to settle for the carpet-and-pillow approach.
“That’s as advanced as we’re getting here at the Kuhlkin household,” she said with a chuckle.
“It’s not very much. I do one step and just really concentrate on getting my knee-bend and working on my release and making sure that’s still intact. That’s the best you can do. I’ve seen some people get really creative, somehow using two-by-fours or wood paneling.
“You can at least get the feel of the bowling ball coming out of your hand. But this is, hands-down, the longest I’ve ever gone without bowling, by far.”
Her involvement with the USBC board may not fill much of the down time, but it will fill her desire to keep tabs on her sport and whatever developments are in the works, while taking an active role in shaping those conversations.
Kuhlkin believes that her two-pronged participation, through the pro tour/Team USA as well as in her local USBC capacity as a league bowler, made her an appealing candidate to those who elected her.
“Maybe some professionals don’t have that opportunity,” she said. “In the Capital Region, we have a lot of scratch leagues, so it provides me an opportunity to stay sharp during the offseason and bowl with a lot of competitive bowlers. I’m fortunate to be from an area like that.”
There remains hope that part of the PWBA season, which usually takes a break in July and runs through September, can be salvaged.
Kuhlkin said she expects to be rusty when bowling does crank up again, but that’s OK.
“I’m sure I’ll throw a couple shots and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is alright.’ But I’m just really excited to be back on the lanes to actually throw the ball and have the pins fly, you know what I mean?” she said.
“It’s [board election] been a very good thing for me, because it’s given me an opportunity to get my foot in the door with bowling again. Really, bowling has been my life for a long time now, so with all of this happening, I almost feel like it’s been taken away. So for this to happen during this time, it’s given me a way to help the sport that I love, that I’m not only a professional in, but I have a passion for. And now I have a reason to help the sport and be involved.”