Ready for 2021: Arlington Heights was home base for pro bowler Liz Johnson as she prepared for new season

It was a sign.

When New York state native Liz Johnson moved to Palatine a few years ago, she went on an immediate search for a home bowling alley.

She found Beverly Lanes in Arlington Heights.

She grew up at a Beverly Lanes, bowling there with her entire family. She got her first trophy there in 1979. She bowled her first 200 game there. As an 8-year-old.

"I'm from the Niagara Falls area and there was a Beverly Lanes there, too. It was torn down about 15 years ago, but I went there all the time when I was a kid. Everyone in my family bowled," Johnson said. "I thought it was ironic that there was a Beverly Lanes in Arlington Heights. I saw that as a sign for me."

In the last month, Johnson has since moved back to her hometown in New York. But over the last three years, and particularly during the height of the pandemic, Beverly Lanes in Arlington Heights was her home and sanctuary, and helped her continue her distinguished professional bowling career.

"I got close with the family that owns Beverly Lanes, the Zikes, Lyle and his dad Les. It's an awesome family. Great people," Johnson said. "I was fortunate to get to know them. "I was lucky that even when things were shut down, I was still able to practice. They would let me come in, and no one was around, and I'd just put in my headphones and do what I do.

"I got to practice through everything that happened this year. I'm just so grateful I could do that."

Johnson hopes her work at Beverly Lanes will help her be prepared for the upcoming Professional Women's Bowling Association season, which has already optimistically scheduled 20 events for 2021, starting in late January.

"It will be nice to travel (on the tour) again. It's been a whole year," Johnson said. "Sometimes the travel can wear on you and that's when it feels more like a job. But when I step on the lanes and bowl for score, that's when I know why I do this. I've been bowling since I was 4 years old. I just love it."

Johnson, a young phenom in the Niagara Falls area who went to college on a bowling scholarship at Morehead State - where she was named the national player of the year as a freshman - is one of the most successful female bowlers in the history of the game and just participated in a special PBA All-Star Clash bowling event that was televised on Fox last weekend.

Over her 26-year professional career, Johnson has 24 Professional Women's Bowling Association titles, including 10 majors championships. She was the PWBA player of the year in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and has rolled up more than $2 million in career earnings.

In her first pro tournament in 1996, she made the TV show, which means that she made the top-5 cut. Johnson also won the U.S. Women's Open that year.

"I was only 21, but I figured I was good enough to be out there," Johnson said. "So I wanted to keep going."

Johnson, elected to the United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame in 2014, became just the second female bowler ever to win an event on the national PBA Tour. She was also the third woman to defeat a man in a televised championship bowling match.

When the women's tour folded in 2003, Johnson joined the men's PBA tour and competed there for 11 years until the PWBA reinvented itself in 2015.

"It was awesome competing against the guys," Johnson said. "It made me believe that I could compete with anyone, not just the women, but the men."

The 46-year-old Johnson will still take on all challengers. Although she is now one of the veterans on the PWBA tour, she is a contender in every event she enters.

"A man might be stronger and get more revs or maybe more speed, but I get a lot of speed, too. I tend to throw it hard. But if you also make the right moves, and make good shots, you can win just as easily against anyone," Johnson said. "I feel like I'm in as good of shape in my 40s as I was in my 20s, and I probably know my game better. I've been around.

"I'm still goal-oriented and I still want to compete against the best. Once we got our tour back (in 2015), I was ready to win more titles and I still feel that way now."

Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

Former Palatine resident Liz Johnson, one of the best female bowlers in the world, worked on her game at Beverly Lanes in Arlington Heights over the last three years. Courtesy of Professional Women's Bowling Association
Former Palatine resident Liz Johnson called Beverly Lanes in Arlington Heights home for the last three years as she competed on the PWBA Tour. Courtesy of Professional Women's Bowling Association
Liz Johnson, formerly of Palatine, has rolled up more than $2 million in career earnings on the PWBA Tour. Courtesy of Professional Women's Bowling Association
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