Bowling through straws

8 months 3 weeks 5 days ago Sunday, March 18 2018 Mar 18, 2018 Sunday, March 18, 2018 2:28:00 PM CDT March 18, 2018 in Sports
By: Kevin Levine, KOMU 8 Sports

JEFFERSON CITY - Nina Theroff walked onto Lincoln University's campus for the first time last fall, eager at the adventure that awaited her. More brash than shy, she wasn't about to let anyone or thing stop her latest enterprise.

It was a few weeks into her Freshman semester that she overheard a fellow student mention a bowling team. She stopped and turned in an instant and inquired

"Bowling?" with a sly smile. She had been a veracious bowler for years, and now had the opportunity to compete collegiately.

That same night she emailed Shawn Flanary, coach of the Lincoln women's bowling team, and asked for a tryout.

"I was so nervous about joining the team I forgot to tell him I was blind,' Theroff said.

Theroff was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, or RP, which often causes tunnel vision. RP is a genetic condition that was passed down from her father to Theroff, and all of her siblings.

"I can't see anything to the side, it's like looking through straws," Theroff said.

Theroff was diagnosed with the condition when she gave birth to her daughter, but was told her condition wouldn't advance to complete blindness until she was in her 60's. But that changed five years ago when Theroff had an accident.

"I decided to get a pedicure from a lawnmower and I ripped off some toes," Theroff said. "It shattered my ankle and severed the nerves through my foot. The nerve medication attacked my eyesight and within 29 days I was legally blind."

Theroff's vision is highly volatile, and can come and go without any explanation.

"I can sneeze and lose my vision for 15 seconds or five days," Theroff said.

But Theroff, armed with her guide-dog and sidekick Tetra, are always ready for another adventure. And her coach is always trying to help prepare her for different situations on the lane.

"There definitely is a challenge to teaching someone who is visually impaired how to bowl," Flanary said. "So we use the limited vision she has to line up her feet and the rest of it has to come through feel."

Theroff is grateful Flanary has adjusted so easily. Some coaches would have issues trying to teach a blind bowler, but she says Flanary has rolled with the punches as well or better than she could have asked for.

"He was like 'Alright, this will be a new challenge' and I was like 'You have no idea.'"

Often times, people have difficulty believing Theroff is blind because of her ability in the alley. She often hears others commenting that she doesn't look like a blind person should, but Theroff just shrugs off the beliefs of others.

"Nobody can tell me what I blind person should look like, and I understand the steroetypes and whatnot. They'll say 'Well you're not blind,'" Theroff said. "Well then let me drive your car. Nobody is yet to let me drive their car, it's very disappointing." 

She may not be able to drive, but people are slowly coming around to the idea that a blind bowler can still find the right lane. 

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