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updated: 9/10/2012 12:17 PM

Blind bowler knocks down doubts

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  • Henry Svetina is legally blind, but that does not deter him from his passion to bowl. Svetina paired up with some of his favorite pro bowlers during a recent Professional Bowlers Association Pro-Am event.

    Henry Svetina is legally blind, but that does not deter him from his passion to bowl. Svetina paired up with some of his favorite pro bowlers during a recent Professional Bowlers Association Pro-Am event.
    Scripps Howard News Service

By Derek J. LaRiviere
Tampa Bay Times

SPRING HILL, Fla. -- When legally blind bowler Henry Svetina touts his two nonsanctioned perfect games, the average person would be skeptical.

This is a man, after all, who has trouble walking around because of his sight. And when he speaks to you, he seems to be looking right through you because, to him, you are just a bunch of cloudy colors.

The skepticism vanishes, however, when you see Svetina toss eight strikes in his first nine frames of a game, including seven in a row. That's exactly what the 50-year-old Svetina, of Spring Hill, Fla., did recently in the Professional Bowlers Association South Region Pro-Am at Spring Hill Lanes, rolling a 240 game in the process.

"I made a small change, and it all started to come together," he said. "This is how I know I can bowl."

Svetina's final series (487) was higher than bowlers around him who average 200 on a regular basis in league play. But it wasn't the scores that interested the man throwing the ball. He used the time in between shots to talk with the pro bowlers who accompanied him on the lane.

He spoke about his condition and how it happened. In 1991, Svetina, an Army veteran, was involved in an industrial accident at an airport in Long Island, N.Y. The mishap caused sulfuric acid to spray into his eyes, burning his retinas and causing him to go blind almost instantly. His sight has deteriorated even more since then, to the point where he no longer is able to see colors more than a couple feet in front of him.

"It's very tough," he said. "When I woke up the morning after, I couldn't see at all. It was a hard thing to get over."

Fort Myers, Fla., pro Lee Rucker was one of the bowlers who listened to Svetina's story. He seemed impressed and moved by the plight of not only Svetina, but all blind people who strive to overcome their handicap.

As he talked about organizing a local bowling fundraiser for Visually Impaired Persons of Southwest Florida, Svetina mentioned having some difficulty gaining support from pros to help with the cause. Immediately, Rucker pledged to be there, if asked.

"I have a couple guys in my league at home who can't see so well," Rucker said. "We are more than happy to tell them which pins are standing so they can adjust. None of us mind helping out."

Svetina needs the same assistance. On his first ball, he steps toward the middle of the lane to try for a strike. If pins are still standing, he needs a little help with the identification of the remaining pins.

He also needs assistance with getting his ball off the rack. With so many different balls, he can't identify his own without someone else's help. Past that, he has a pretty good grip on the game.

He bowled a lot more often in the mid- to late 1990s in his native Long Island. After some time off and moving to Spring Hill in 2005, Svetina began to pick up the sport again. He now uses PBA South Region events to compete and gain awareness for the blind.

"I know him a little bit from all the pro-am (events) he's competed in," South Region manager Sam Zurich said. "What he's doing has got to be difficult. It's really something to watch."

Svetina's story has been told by several media outlets as he attempts to draw more attention to the visually impaired.

He focuses on pro-am tournaments and events involving Visually Impaired Persons, as well as Special Olympics.

The competitors at the recent pro-am event at Spring Hill Lanes seemed astonished by his abilities.

Thanks in large part to his final game of 240 and pro games of 258, 275 and 257, Svetina finished in the middle of the pack in the event, placing 34th. The six PBA bowlers who competed with him were David Shinn (22nd in the Spring Hill Open), Kyle Troup (fifth), Wayne Bolin (75th), Rucker (63rd), Guppy Troup (21st) and Kirk Hersey (58th).

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