- Wayne Drehs
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As he held his 16-pound bowling ball in his hands and looked down the lane toward the pins standing before him, 78-year-old Dale Davis saw only a blur.
He couldn't see the lane. He couldn't see the pins. He couldn't see the people who had gathered behind him to see whether the blind man could accomplish something no one else at this alley ever had.
Only if he turned his head to the left could Davis see a thing. It has been this way for 11 years, the World War II veteran losing all his vision except for a tiny sliver of peripheral sight out of the corner of his right eye. His impairment is the result of a medical condition known as macular degeneration, in which the inner lining of the eye atrophies, in certain cases resulting in the loss of vision. For Davis, it is that tiny sliver of sight, not to mention a multicolored cane and 10 weeks of education for the vision-impaired, that allow him to live by himself. To take care of himself.
"If somebody comes up to me and says, 'Hello,' unless I recognize their voice, I have no idea who they are," Davis said. "In the bowling alley, looking straight down the wooden lane, I'm completely blind. Everything is just very, very hazy."
But on the evening of May 3, none of that mattered. After bowling a 160, a 150 and a 185 in his three previous games, Davis had rolled 11 consecutive strikes in his fourth and final game of the 2007-08 bowling season. All that stood between him and bowling perfection was one more strike.
He had come close before, once throwing 11 strikes before pulling the 12th ball and settling for a 299. But that was many years ago. Before he had half his stomach removed because of a tumor. Before he had a bypass done on his left leg to improve his circulation. And before he had lost his vision.
Since then, he had undergone a divorce, lost his taste for life and moved from California back to his hometown of Alta, Iowa, population 1,865. It was his sister, three years ago, who dragged him back to the alley.
"I told her, 'I can't see,'" Davis said. "'What makes you think I can bowl?' But she convinced me and, for the second time in my life, I was hooked."
This past season, Davis averaged 180, often stringing four and five strikes together. Despite standing a fragile 120 pounds, he earned the nickname, "Hammer," for the power with which he threw his ball.
"He drove a truck, without power steering, for many, many years," said close friend Clem Ledoux, who owns Century Lanes, the alley in Alta. "He's strong. Put it this way, if you were going to arm-wrestle Dale, my money would be on him."
On this night, Davis needed to unleash the hammer one more time. But the odds were against him. According to James Benton, president of the American Blind Bowling Association, a 300 game is a rarity for someone with impaired vision. In the association's 60-year history, Benton said, his organization is aware of only four perfect games thrown by someone who is legally blind. And no one with complete loss of vision is known to have bowled a 300.
"It is extremely rare," Benton said.
Davis began preparing for his 12th toss the exact same way he had for the countless others. He tilted his head to the left so he could see the dots below him. He placed his left foot three-quarters of an inch to the left of the center dot -- "the big one," as Davis calls it -- then took his four steps forward and let go.
Century Lanes had pretty much shut down at that point. No one else was bowling. And everyone had left the bar. They all stood behind Lanes 3 and 4, waiting and watching to see whether Davis could bowl the alley's first perfect game in its 24-year history.
Because he is unable to see, Davis evaluates his shots based on three criteria: how it feels coming out of his fingers, the crack the ball makes when it hits the pins, and whether his fellow bowlers tell him he can sit down because he threw a strike.
On this night, the last ball flew out of his fingers feeling good. "The instant I released it, I thought I tugged it a real little bit," Davis said. "But then I heard somebody say, 'Brooklyn.'"
In bowling, a Brooklyn is a strike that "crosses over" the 1-3 pocket, a term that originated in New York, where people in Brooklyn had to cross the East River to get to Manhattan.
A second later, Davis' ball crashed into the pins, unleashing a crackle that echoed through the four-lane alley. He knew all the pins had fallen because of the response of everyone who had been watching.
A perfect 300.
"Everybody starting hugging me, shaking my hand, hitting my hand," Davis said. "It was great."
From there, the celebration made its way to the bar. What did Davis drink to celebrate?
"I don't drink anymore," he said. "It's not real good for my health. So I bought a round for everybody else. What a thrill."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dale Davis averaged 180 this bowling season, often stringing four and five strikes together. As ESPN.com's Wayne Drehs writes, despite his 120-pound frame, Davis has earned his nickname, "Hammer," for the power with which he throws the ball.