SCHENECTADY — While Liz Kuhlkin waits anxiously to find out when she can resume her extremely successful pro bowling career, she frantically stocks vegetables and fruits at the Price Chopper Market 32 Bistro in Latham. Like most aspects of dealing with the COVID-19 virus, neither of her job scenarios is currently an easy one.
The Schalmont High School graduate and Rotterdam native is a 26-year-old up-and-coming superstar on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour. She has two PWBA victories, including a major, the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open. Kuhlkin also has a PWBA regional crown (2016 PWBA Maple City Dodge East Open) and numerous other noteworthy regional and local titles, like the New York State Queens and the prestigious Joe & Tom Donato Scratch Singles tournament. She’s a former NCAA Division I Player of the Year and a two-time national champion at Nebraska, where she was the 2015 Female Athlete of the Year.
Kuhlkin not only holds the record for highest three-game series by a woman (890), but as a member of Team USA also won two silver medals and two bronze medals at the 2018 PABCON Women’s Championships, as well as a gold medal and two bronze medals while bowling for Junior Team USA in 2014.
Bowling is Kuhlkin’s passion. Her resume is already sensational at a very young age. It’s not just a hobby, but rather a way of life. Right now, that career is in a holding pattern. She is worried.
“A lot of things have been turned on their heads these days,” said Kuhlkin in a telephone interview Friday. “The first thing we heard was that our tour was postponed indefinitely. Our first stop was actually supposed to be April 25-27 in Tucson, AZ,” she added. “That was two weeks ago.”
Since then, there have been a few updates.
“We heard that the USBC Queens scheduled for late May was going to be postponed. At least it will be rescheduled but not canceled,” Kuhlkin said. She added that even the USBC is not making a call when local leagues and other regional tournaments will resume yet because of CDC limitations.
“I’m hearing the earliest we will start the tour is June,” Kuhlkin said. “It looks like our tour will be condensed now — if we even have a season at all. They are basically working on a couple of ideas. We don’t usually bowl in July. Maybe we can bowl then. Maybe they will push our tour into the fall and winter, but the bowling centers are already in heavy use during that time.
“This sucks right now,” Kuhlkin continued. “I’m proactive. I’m preparing myself for the worst, but I’m hoping for the best. The worst is we don’t bowl at all. I don’t want that to happen, but I know it’s a possibility.”
One of Kuhlkin’s challenges is how to stay in shape and work on her game. She has numerous limitations.
“I haven’t bowled for 16 days,” she said. “The last time I bowled was in our Wednesday night league at Towne Bowling Academy. It’s tough, because bowling is a sport where you can’t play outside. You need indoor lanes.”
To keep in shape, she is practicing one-step lunges with her bowling ball down in her basement.
“That’s pretty much all you can do at this point,” she said. “This is the longest I’ve gone without bowling in many years. Luckily for me, I do go outside and jog to keep my stamina up. I see a lot of videos where players are using bowling balls in their workouts and doing squats with three-ball bags as weights. But literally, the act of bowling is limited where you can practice. The full motion of bowling involves pins and lanes. But you have to deal with what you have. I’m just trying to stay in motion right now,” she said.
If Kuhlkin had access to lanes for practice, she said she would be working on a couple of improvements in her approach. “One thing I want to do is get better projection down the lane. I’ve never had a pronounced knee bend, and even before this all happened I was working on getting better balance and projecting the ball down lane to get better ball reaction,” she added. “I want to bend my knee more and keep my elbow in. Those are things I was working on in preparation for the tour. We have to be ready when the PWBA calls us.”
While Kuhlkin’s bowling career is in limbo — including her two local leagues, the Reis Group Kim Brown Memorial City League and the Reis Group Kim Brown Memorial Mixed Doubles, both at Towne Bowling Academy — she continues to work at the Latham Market 32.
“I’ve been working there for eight years, since I was a freshman in college,” Kuhlkin explained. “My father has worked for Price Chopper for 45 years. I got into it initially to have something to do in college for summertime. Now, it’s evolved into a part-time job. I work as a produce clerk, and I help keep the floor stocked during the day.
“I never thought my job at Price Chopper would supersede my job as a professional bowler, but really, at this point, it has. I’ve become a front-line person helping to keep the store on its feet. The last week, I’m seeing how customers have been and how they’ve been reacting to the virus. This is something I’ve never seen before and something my father hasn’t seen in a long time.”
Kuhlkin is trying very hard to remain positive when so many parts of her life are in flux.
“I’m grateful at this point that I do have a job and can support myself. I know a lot of people don’t and can’t,” she said. “Throughout all of this, I’m counting my blessings. I know my bowling career is scary because of the unknowns. I don’t know how things are going to unravel. I’ve been very anxious during all of this but I’m trying to live my life and remain positive. I hope it all works out.
“I really miss bowling a lot,” Kuhlkin said. “But I know what’s happening now with the quarantine is for the greater good. Obviously, my pro career goes before anything else, but my Monday night league we were making a run to win the second half after we already won the first half. There are a lot of different things going on, but you have to remain positive. There are a lot of unknowns out there,” Kuhlkin said.
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected] or @BobWeiner58 on Twitter.