Life with MS

Bowled Over by Adaptive Sport

By Marianly H. Primmer
Every strike is a strike against MS at the Perky Hornets Bowling League. The adaptive sport league in Perry Hall, Md., is specifically for people who are living with multiple sclerosis.

“It’s seems like it has opened up a whole new family for me,” said Mona Sutton, a league bowler.

Today, Mona never misses a game, but at the time of her diagnosis she didn’t want to leave her house. Her MS diagnosis was the final blow after more than one health scare. “I was on top of the world and everything went down.”

Thinking back, Mona described herself as a perky, bubbly woman. She was enjoying raising two step-daughters with her husband. She was also the bread-winner in her family, working as a civil engineer, designing highways for the state of Maryland. Then something unexpected happened.

Mona suffered a traumatic brain injury from a car accident. She woke up from a coma a week later, not knowing who she was. Mona struggled to relearn everything, including how to walk and talk. She also battled PTSD from the accident, but Mona persevered. She pieced her life back together and even went back to work.

A few years later, she went back to her neurologist after suffering headaches and the loss of some cognitive function. After a set of tests and MRIs, she was diagnosed with MS. Mona said she saw no choice but to quit her career.

“I was very depressed and just stayed at home.” That’s when a friend told her about the league. She reluctantly joined, but is now glad she did. “MS bowling has brought me out of my cocoon. I am feeling better both physically and mentally.”

The league accommodates players of all levels. Some bowl from a wheelchair with the help of a ramp. Others use their walkers. “The players who use a ramp get the higher scores,” she admitted with a hint of jealousy. 

Mona walks up to the foul line. The ball is handed to her, but she rolls it down the lane by herself. “I feel like I’m toning up more; my body, my muscles are more toned, even my legs are stronger,” Mona said.

Toned muscles aren’t the only benefit. Experts credit adaptive sports with lowering stress and blood pressure, as well as helping with secondary medical conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.

The league is funded in part by the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation’s Health and Wellness Grant, which funds adaptive sports and classes across the country designed to promote symptom management and pain relief.

Joan Denzler, the league’s coordinator, has been volunteering with the league since its inception more than 50 years ago. Joan said, in a report to MS Focus, she noticed increased flexibility, muscle strength, focus, cognition, alertness, and stamina in 21 of the 24 bowlers.

The benefits of adaptive sports are not only physical. Many participants also experience deep emotional shifts. “I have a whole new family that can understand what I’m going through. I can relate to them and they can relate to me,” Mona said.

Now, Mona says she can truly live up to the “Perky Hornets” name once again. She has regained her bubbly disposition, but most important, she says she is a part of something bigger than herself. “The camaraderie is what makes us keep moving. You know if you’re down somebody is going to be there to help you up, physically and mentally.”

Her score? She admits it could be better. In fact, her team was awarded trophies for the worst team in the league, “beating” seven other teams for that title – two years in a row.

Mona does get her share of strikes and spares. Because they are elusive, she says those small victories are much sweeter. “It’s so amazing. It’s a feeling like just ecstasy. It’s overwhelming. My whole body gets tingly and happy.”