I thought I'd put up a story that I felt should be shared. It's a story that shows that if your drive remains strong through the tough times, your goals can be acheived.
Josh LeClair hails from Windsor Ontario and has been involved with the Open provincially as a coach for a few years. Despite his attempts to qualify as a bowler over several years repeatedly came up short, his dream never died. This is what I hope to be several great stories that I'll post up here. This is Josh LeClair's story.
My first time at the Open was in 1995, my last year of YBC. I went to watch my friend’s father play the Men’s Team for what was then Windsor Zone W, one of 24 zones at the time. I had never seen such a massive tournament, and the loudness and intensity was incredible. Well, wouldn’t you know it, that men’s team won that year. I was inspired. This was something I HAD to do. Next year, my first year out of YBC, I’m going to play THE OPEN, I told myself.
I never want to say that someone isn’t good enough to try The Open, but truth was, I wasn’t nearly as good enough as I needed to be to qualify as I only averaged 204 my last year of YBC, but I didn’t care, I wanted to do this. So tried I did, and as soon as I started to fall behind, the wheels fell off and I just went through the motions and finished my 20 games, still in awe of the scores the men were shooting to qualify, in what seemingly was light years ahead of where I was. My failure to qualify did not deter me from going to Hamilton almost every Easter weekend to watch this spectacle. And without fail, every year I went, after all the competition was done, I was inspired to try again. Listening to Walter Heeney introduce the stepladder competitors was the ultimate moment for me. I always thought, “Man, what does it take to be that good?”
So I tried again the following year. No dice. And the year after that. And the year after that one too. This annual event turned into a Christmas present from my Mother, paying my entry fee when I couldn’t afford the $100 or so while I was going through school, or just starting a job out of college. Even through my failures, I still loved the idea that I had a chance to do what that Windsor Men’s team did, so I kept trying.
Over time I became a better bowler, averaging in the mid 230’s. By about my 9th try (I think I lost count) I was finally in the thick of things after the first 10. I shot 2538, and sat 4th. The next week, I could not relax, I was so nervous. I thought negatively, playing not to lose, and slowly worked my way down the standings the closer it got to the end. I put myself in a position that I needed a strike in the last frame of the tournament to qualify for the first time in nine or so tries. Headpin. I missed by 9 sticks. I was devastated. I let my nerves get to me all day, and I did just enough (or didn’t) to just miss out. Having obtained my Level 2 coaching certification, I ended up being an assistant coach for the Men. I thought, I want to be a part of this so bad, I guess this is all I’ve got for now. But I was glad for the opportunity to get involved.
After taking a year off from playing while my wife was pregnant for our 2nd child, I returned to redeem myself. I played ok, was within 100 sticks of 9th after the first week. I would be damned if I let my nerves get to me again the next week. So I started the second week off decently, playing myself back in qualifying position. With two games to go I was right in the thick of things. After a low 200 game in the 19th game, I went into the last game, and my nerves got to me a bit, and I putzed through it, picking a 3 on a chop spare in nine and watching my closet competitor throw a strike to pretty much seal it. I fired three angry strikes in ten to miss by 10 sticks. Again. To the brother of the competitor who beat me out the last time. In the same bowling alley. I couldn’t believe this happened. AGAIN. Devastation was not the word to explain it. After all this I still didn’t want to miss Easter Weekend, so again I coached.
I took yet another year off the following year and just stuck to coaching, thinking that I couldn’t put myself through this again. I came back the next year and was just dreadful, barely shooting 4000. Some people asked me when enough was enough. I started to question myself too. But my desire to accomplish this never waned. I still went to Hamilton that Easter, coached again, and was inspired as usual. Some of my best league nights over the years were the week after I came back from watching a ton of great bowlers, and learning a few things. I again took another year off, as my wife got back into bowling and played (most who know us both will tell you that she’s the better bowler in the family, to which I haven’t proven otherwise).
This brings us to this year: I believe my 12th attempt, 15 years after my first. I hadn’t committed to playing until a few days before, with the failures in the back of my mind and the idea of coaching a pretty good team also a possibility. But that desire was still there. I thought “What kind of regret will you have if you give up, not knowing if you kept trying if you would ever qualify or not?”. So I made up my mind. Give it another go I thought. I played decent the first week, with 2419 and sitting 5th, 140 back of first, less than 100 ahead of 10th. It was tight. But I wasn’t going to let it get to me the next week. If I didn’t qualify, I’ll probably coach a pretty good team, if I do qualify, then great. So after playing the first seven of the 2nd week I remained in 5th, with a shot at singles and a pretty good cushion on 10th. But I remained focused on what was ahead of me instead of looking back. I started with a strike in game eight and felt more confident then I had in the whole tournament. I got this I told myself. Then the picks showed up, in droves. 186 game 18, 214 game 19 and 135 through eight frames game 20. I must have had at least 10 picks in those three games. My closest competition was 95 behind going into that last game, but 50 ahead of me through eight frames. I couldn’t help but wonder why this was happening to me yet again. I didn’t feel any different than the rest of the day, didn’t change my mindset, wasn’t nervous, but something changed. After watching my closest competitor throw a strike in nine, I knew I was right back in the same situation I was in the last two times I just missed out. I buckled down and managed to find the pocket and match him. I wasn’t sure where that left me, but felt I needed another in ten to make it. In the same bowling alley as the other two close calls, I had to do what I couldn’t do before. I told myself, if you pick, you pick, but get that ball out to the spot and hit the headpin. Well, I got it out, hit the pocket and got that strike. I was so relieved and elated that I wasn’t even sure where I was and I walked over into the next lane and bumped into the score machine with my hip. Turns out I finished 9th by 32, and I didn’t need that strike in ten, but I didn’t know that at the time. I finished the last three with 585, but I got there.
After 15 years of being a spectator, cheerleader, coach and most of all a fan of this tournament, I’m finally going to participate. I’ve seen perfect games, watched my wife finish 7th in singles in her rookie season, coached a singles champion in the stepladder, saw the province go from 24 zones to 14, seven bowlers on the mixed team to six, add a Seniors division (of which some of my childhood coaches are two-time defending champs!!), seen records shattered and watched the Windsor Men’s team win it all in the past 15 years. One of my teammates on the mixed team is a girl I coached when she was a Bantam in YBC. I knew I could do it, as I’ve seen bowlers that I feel are my equal, and some even below my ability be successful in qualifying. It’s great to get that huge monkey off my back.
I’ve been asked how I’ll feel when I throw that first ball Easter Weekend after everything I’ve been through over the last 15 years. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll be nervous at all. I can’t imagine too many people have had as much “Open Experience” as I have without actually throwing a ball. I’m excited and grateful for finally getting the chance to do this, and I’m going to appreciate every shot I throw, because who knows how many chances I’ll get in the years to come. I hope for a lot more, but for now, I’ll concentrate on this year.
If you know anybody who is struggling to accomplish a goal in this game, please share my story. Don’t ever give up, especially if you know you have the ability and other people around you reinforce that. Look around at the people who have been successful at what you are trying to accomplish. See what they are doing. Talk to them; ask what their thought process is. Practice. But don’t quit. Trust me, you’ll regret it, because the wait made the accomplishment that much more gratifying.