In this edition of "23 Questions", we head to Winnipeg, Manitoba to meet Karen Armstrong. As with Connie, Brenda and Erica previously, I would NOT refer to Karen as one of Canada's best female bowlers, but instead, I WOULD call Karen one of Canada's best bowlers period, who just happens to be female.
A "slam dunk" member of the C5's "Century of Excellence", Karen's list of career accomplishments is staggering! A veteran of 28 combined National Championships, she has also appeared on TSN 7 times, including a 2nd Place finish in 2003. In 2004, Karen won the CBC Series!
Karen has competed in 16 National Opens, winning Team Gold on 5 occasions! She is a 6-Time Manitoba Singles Champion, and in 2009 she won the National Singles Title to go with three previous Silver Medal finishes. Karen has amassed 16 National Open Medals, as well as being named to the All-Star Team 5 times!!
Karen has represented Manitoba at the Masters Nationals 12 times, 6 of those as the Singles representative! She won Singles Gold in 1996, 2002 and 2007, in addition to a Singles Silver in 2006, and two other Team Bronze medals.
She has enjoyed other tournament success as well, winning the Manitoba Open in 2008.
Karen has also bowled two Perfect Games, with another 448 to boot! Other personal bests include a 1046 Triple, 1332 four-game set, 1688 for 5 and 2950 for 10!
Upon returning from the "Coca-Cola Classic" tournament in Regina, Karen took time to chat with me.
Karen, we thank you for taking the time to do this.
At what age did you take up this glorious game?
5, but before then I was one of those kids running around the lanes while my family bowled.
In YBC, do you recall your average in Bantam, Junior and Senior?
Just a guess:
At what age did your game really take off?
To what can you attribute the improvement?
I had tried to qualify for the Open right after finishing YBC and never did qualify. I stopped trying for a few years, then in 1992 I decided that it was time for me to get serious and practice to try and make it again. So I guess just having the drive to want to play competitively
What is your current average?
What was your best ever league average?
For those who haven't seen you bowl, live or on TV, could you describe your shot?
I look at the middle arrow, 3 step approach, and ball speed medium to fast. (For a girl.) Throw pretty much straight up the gut, sometimes with a small hook at the end.
Do you normally aim for a pocket or just throw right at the Headpin?
I just throw at the headpin, though some days it would be nice to hit a certain side.
And if you're punching a lot of Headpins, what adjustment would you make?
I have a few different ones. The ones most used are a ball change, move to the left or move back a bit.
Do you like to know where you stand during a tournament, or do you ignore the scoreboard?
Depends on how I am bowling. If I am tearing it up I don’t need to look. If I am struggling then I need to know where I am and how far down I am.
How about during a singles match?
I pay attention to the score board but don’t watch my opponent throw any shots.
Are there any situations where you would play thin (chisel)?
No generally I do not try to chisel. But after losing to Jodi Craig in the final of TSN by punching a headpin I wish I would have tried. Lol.
You have two 450's and a 448 game. In which order did you get them?
450, 448, 450. The 448 and the second 450 were 3 months apart.
After your 1st Perfect game, did the 12th shot get easier in your subsequent 448 and 450 games, with the experience of having been there before?
No I don’t think so. I was still shaking like a leaf.
You appeared on National Television a remarkable 8 separate years, and Bowl Canada (Formerly BPAC) and TSN/CBC did a pretty good job with their series, but can you think of anything that might have improved the broadcasts, whether through production or format? And I don't think that "The PINS GAME" format works especially well for 5-Pin. Did you like the "PINS GAME" or do you think the TSN series would have been better with straight "Match Play" from the start?
I think the match play format works better for 5 pin. Though I do understand why they did it. Since CBC was match play they wanted something different. As for the production side I have a few ideas. We need a bigger gallery, host it in a city where you know they can fill the seats. The audience needs to get more involved in cheering. If you watch 10 pin at all you see the crowd is a lot more rowdy. The bowlers themselves can maybe try to be a little more colorful with their body English (try and get a little more pumped up), and play along with the crowd. Also better advertising, even at the provincial level would help. Make sure the bowlers know about the competition. (That may get a few more entries). And lastly, what about a doubles competition to feed off each other and the crowd? Make it more exciting to watch.
I agree! I think any team event would add a whole new dynamic to 5-Pin on television.
With 16 National Open appearances, including 5 Team Wins and 1 Singles Gold, do any stand out as "extra special"?
Yes in 1997 I was 6 months pregnant and Linda Orne was 7 months pregnant. We lost our first match to Nova Scotia and never lost a match after. Our team average was over 1250. It was an awesome year. Everyone said we were cheating because we had 2 extra players on our team. Lol.
Karen, on many occasions you have been to the Nationals as a team member AND Singles representative in the same year, so what do you think of the new C5 rule limiting Provincial Champions to only compete in ONE event at the Nationals?
I really have mixed feelings on this one. I have been to Nationals 6 times as a single and have played both every time. For anyone who has done this, they know they are very long days, and a lot of games!! There were a couple of years that I thought long and hard about only bowling singles just to try it. But I felt like I would be letting my team mates down if I would have left them. I do think you should have the choice but now for those people that wanted to try just singles and not do both don’t have to carry the guilt of leaving their team.
With an amazing 12 trips to the Masters Nationals, including 3 National Singles Championships to your credit, can you tell us what Masters highlights might stand out?
I have enjoyed each and every year of competition. Aside from my 3 gold medals, I guess the one thing that comes to mind is when I had the high average for the tournament. See the next answer (Chick Burn)
You were victorious in the 2008 Manitoba Open, was that extra gratifying beating the men?
Oh yes it definitely was extra gratifying to beat the men. It's always more gratifying! I like to call it Chick Burn. I know men don’t like that term but most women do
All these years I suffered from that affliction, but never knew it had a name! Maybe now I can take something for it!
Do you have any other accomplishments that you are especially proud of?
My children!! I have 3 boys- Garrett 18, Cole 13 and Brett 12. All are very involved with sports (unfortunately none of them bowl anymore). I love watching my kids play. It seems that the two big sports for my kids are volleyball and baseball. All have done very well at their sports at such a young age.
Having played this game from coast-to-coast, are the conditions specifically different from province to province?
Not that I have noticed, except for the shields. We have only one centre with shields in Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg area is one of the Nation's hotbeds for talent. Which fellow Manitobans have made a big difference in your career?
Well, my Mom was my coach growing up. I remember watching Jackie Monchak when I was a junior and saying wow I want to be that good. Dylis Turner took over coaching when I started competing competitively as an adult. Geoff Born has also had a tremendous influence on my career, and the last few years my good friend Karrie Thibert has been helping me out.
We know you can't list everyone, but can you list some of your most respected competitors, or people you enjoy watching, from across the land?
Sandi Anderson (one of the best anchor bowlers ever), my brother Glen Howarth, Robert Shanas, Mark Johnstone, Matt Schultz, Bruce Morter, Connie Ward
What is your favourite thing about our sport?
The people and the sportsmanship. I don’t think I have ever had any trouble with unsportsmanlike conduct in all my years of experience.
Is there anything that concerns you about 5-Pin?
One thing that does concern me is that there seems to be 4 bodies of bowling, with YBC, Masters, Canadian 5 Pin Assoc. and the Proprietors. But there is too much conflict between the organizations. We should work together to make our sport grow and get stronger.
There are lots of 230-240 shooters around. What advice would you give these folks to help them get to the next level?
Practice, Practice, Practice and talk to a sports psychologist! The next level is mostly mental. Or at least read some sports psych books.
That is SO TRUE! There are tons of people who throw great shots, often times the only difference is what's going on "upstairs"!
And finally, what advice could you lend to our younger bowlers out there?
Bowl at least 2 times a week. Bowl in leagues where the bowlers are better than you. If you surround yourself with people that are better, you will become better.
We will finish on that note. Thank you, Karen.
Don't forget to check back next week as we head west for Darrell Bradley's feature. In the coming weeks, we are aspiring to cover as much as this great land as we can, and as always, we appreciate your feedback, comments and suggestions.