Fred Ulasik of Bozrah is among the oldest bowlers in the nation. He wears a hearing aid, has a hint of arthritis and a little stiffness in his walk. But not much.
Fred Ulasik stares at the ten pins down Lane 11, takes two steps and tosses the ball down the lane at the Norwich Bowling & Entertainment Center.
If you look closely, you might notice he wears a hearing aid, has a hint of arthritis and a little stiffness in his walk. But not much.
“Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t,” said Ulasik, who turns 97 Saturday.
The United States Bowling Congress doesn’t keep statistics on the number of people older than 96 who bowl in a league. Bowling Congress spokesman Lucas Wiseman estimates fewer than 5,000 people that age bowl in leagues the congress keeps track of. The record for oldest league bowler is held by Bill Hargrove of Georgia, who bowled until he was 106, Wiseman said. Hargrove died in May.
“If that doesn’t prove that bowling is a lifelong sport, I don’t know what does,” Wiseman said.
In the Norwich league, Ulasik of Bozrah holds the record. On Thursday, his teammates served a birthday cake in his honor as they played their regular Thursday afternoon game.
“We look up to him. He’s like a father figure, really,” said Warren Burgess, 87, of Ledyard, president of the senior league.
“I just hope I’m around at 97,” said Gene Sullivan, 84, of Norwich. “It’s amazing, really. I mean, does he look that old? Whenever they announce his birthday, no one can believe it.”
Ulasik bowled with duck pins as a teenager, then left the sport for a bit. His son-in-law got him back into it. He’s been bowling 45 years.
In 1960, he opened a heating, air conditioning and sheet metal shop called Ulasik Sheet Metal, in Bozrah, which he ran for years. When he retired, his son-in-law and daughter took it over.
Ulasik is a World War II veteran. He lives alone since his wife died two and a half years ago. They would have been married 62 years in September.
He never challenged anyone over a bowling game, even when he would have won. His average score is 135 now. His best was 269.
He injured his shoulder a few years ago when he went to lower the ball and his arm went with it. The doctors said no more 14-pound bowling balls. He uses a 10-pound ball now.
He has a little arthritis in one hand and is getting over a fractured heel.
“Other than that, I can’t complain,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Alessi, chief of neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital, said sports such as bowling can play key roles in health as people age.
“Bowling itself improves coordination and balance, and in the elderly, we find that that’s one of our biggest problems,” he said. Better coordination can prevent accidents like unintentional falls, he said.
Programs like tai chi and yoga also work well, Alessi said.
Ulasik said he’ll bowl as long as he can still walk.
“As long as the good Lord lets me,” he said.
Age: 97 on Saturday
Years bowling: 45
Bowling average: 135
Best game: 269
Bowling days: Thursday
League: Norwich Senior League