Anyone who knows her will tell you that few people hate losing more than Carol Gianotti. Even fewer have gone through more than she has to avoid it over the years.
When the 16-time ladies’ tour titlist returned to the spotlight in the finals of the 2008 USBC Queens, she was bowling on a knee that had endured no less than nine surgeries, with one more on the way.
“With Carol, it was always like ‘I may not be prepared, and I may not have practiced and I may be hurt, but I will be damned if I lose,” says USBC Hall of Famer Kim Terrell-Kearney.
Gianotti was indeed hurt over the years, needing doctors to drain that bum knee between squads on tour, coming back from breaking her bowling hand sooner than anyone could believe, finding ways to win just as her body tried to find ways to quit.
"The challenges she had to overcome to do what she loved and achieve what she has is pure inspiration," says Gianotti's fellow Australian bowling star Jason Belmonte.
Yes, to those who watched her compete, Gianotti had an inspiring way of going about her business. But for Carol Gianotti, that was the only way to do it.
"I have a really high tolerance for pain, and I am very strong willed with the things I want to achieve," Gianotti explains. "If I want to do something, I am going to do it."
Even those who did somehow survive Gianotti’s blistering will to win still found themselves feeling as though they had stood in the way of a runaway train by the time the match was over.
“She just picked up her ball and went. There was not a lot of indecision,” Terrell-Kearney says. “When you were on the lanes with Carol, there was just this feeling that you did not get in her way. She will run right through you. Everything about her game was just in fast-forward mode. It was always ‘Come on, let’s go!’”
And if ever Gianotti found herself pitted against a bowler who did not share her preference for fast-forward bowling, well, she would not hesitate to let you know about it.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing on the approach, it doesn’t matter how much time you take,” Gianotti said in a Bowling Digest story appropriately titled “Lightning on the Lanes.”
That was 1990, when Gianotti had earned the right to distinguish between those who had it and those who didn’t.
Just two years earlier she was the unknown Aussie who shocked the field at a 1988 pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, where she tangled with the best woman bowlers in the world to earn the top seed and a trip to represent her country in Seoul.
“She was regarded as the also-ran to the U.S. contingent, but amazed everyone by leading the qualifying,” Bowling Digest’s Jim Fitzgerald wrote of the feat.
Amazed everyone, that is, except those who watched her grow from the girl who discovered bowling at the center her parents built to the teenager who won the Junior Australian Masters.
“We grew up right next door to the bowl,” brother Mark Gianotti remembers. “We just jumped over the fence and went to the bowl all the time.”
But the girl who jumped fences with her brother to get to the bowl next door discovered more than just bowling; she discovered the restless competitor within her, the urge that would compel her to enter men’s bowling tournaments around Australia.
Thanks to an inspiring exhibition that brought stars such as Wendy Macpherson and Anne Marie Dugan to Australia soon thereafter, that competitor within also would take her far from home.
“Australia is an island; when you grow up there you always want to get out and travel the world a bit,” Mark Gianotti says. “I was happy for her when she went to bowl the U.S. tour, and maybe a bit jealous that she was getting to go somewhere.”
The encouragement and guidance of the mentor Gianotti found in Wendy Macpherson, whom she credits as the most significant influence in her career and a great friend to this day, made that journey away from the island possible. And if you were one of the many bowling fans for whom the sight of Carol Gianotti on a ladies’ tour telecast became as commonplace as a trip to church on Sunday, you know the rest of the story.
You know that the first title she won within months of leaving home for the U.S. was a major, the 1989 USBC Queens.
You know about the six straight telecasts she made in 1992 and the four titles she won along the way, the three additional top-5 finishes she had at the Queens in 1992, 1997 and 2008, the four separate seasons in which she won multiple titles.
But the parts of the story you could not see on TV have as much to do with her upcoming induction into the USBC Hall of Fame as any stat or title.
“When you watch some of those shows where she won and bowled as well as she did, you would never have been able to tell that she was in pain, but I know she was,” USBC hall of Famer Carolyn Dorin-Ballard explains of Gianotti’s longtime battle to bowl through injury. “When you’re that competitive and you know what you’re capable of, to be told you can’t do it, or to have something tell you that you can’t do it, just makes you drive even harder to overcome it.”
“I have seen Carol bowl through pain many times,” says friend and former touring pro Maxine Nable. “Where other people can’t even put their hand in the ball, Carol not only bowls through it, she manages to do pretty darned good.”
Viewers could not see the pain Gianotti bowled in, but they also could not see the Carol Gianotti her friends love the most—the one whose love for life is at least as epic as the record she compiled on the lanes.
“It was a blast to be out on tour with Carol,” says ten-time ladies’ tour titlist Sandra Jo Shiery. “She could always make you laugh. I remember one time we went to the grocery store and she just hopped into the cart, and we pushed her around the store in the cart like she was a little kid.”
“It didn’t matter if she was bowling good or if she was bowling bad, Carol always had fun,” Dorin-Ballard recalls. “She was all business on the lanes, but off the lanes you could never tell if she had bowled good or bad. She was always hanging out with friends, going to the movies, going out to dinner.”
How fitting it is, then, that the two sides of Carol Gianotti will travel to Arlington, Texas this week: The ferocious competitor who will lace up her shoes again for the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open, and the fun-loving Aussie who will celebrate her Hall of Fame induction the only way she knows how—by partying as hard off the lanes as she works when she is on them.
“She works extremely hard at what she does, she plays very hard, and she truly enjoys life,” says friend and former tour player Stacy Rider. “I knew the Hall of Fame was a goal Carol had set for herself, and she definitely deserves it. She has worked hard.”