ARLINGTON, Texas - Though confined to a wheelchair, Shawn Beam took up the sport of bowling nearly 22 years ago, seeing it as a great opportunity to spend competitive time with his friends. Last week, the Burleson, Texas, resident's hard work and dedication to the sport led to the accomplishment of a lifetime.
Beam, 36, put together 12 consecutive strikes for a 300 game in his TGIF league at Cityview Lanes in Fort Worth on May 18. The American Wheelchair Bowling Association (AWBA) reports Beam is the first freehand wheelchair bowler to shoot a certified perfect game. The United States Bowling Congress, the sport's national governing body, has certified the score as official.
For Beam, who suffered from a pinched nerve in his spine at birth and has always required the use of a wheelchair, the perfect game was a realization of a dream he has had since he started bowling competitively as a teenager.
"There are not a lot of sports for people in wheelchairs where you can feel like you can compete on the same playing field as everyone else, and that has always been the big draw for me," said Beam, a mailroom supervisor for American Airlines who maintains a 190 league average. "I've never let my chair keep me from doing what I want to do. Wheelchair basketball guys will never be in the NBA, but you can compete with anyone in bowling."
The AWBA has been working to raise awareness of its organization and hopes Beam's accomplishment will spread the word about wheelchair bowling.
"For the AWBA, it brings to its members a sense of pride in what we do and how we do it," AWBA Chairperson Joe Fox Sr. said. "It has already opened the eyes of many to the sport of wheelchair bowling. We will continue to teach those in chairs the sport of wheelchair bowling, continue to build our organization around ability not disability, and continue to work with those that govern the sport at USBC to plant seeds throughout our great country about our sport."
At age 15 when Beam began bowling, it wasn't something he really wanted to do, but after his family, which had always been involved in the sport, insisted, he gave it a try.
The first season he bowled, Beam averaged just 69 but said the sport "got into his blood" and he never looked back.
Over the past few years, Beam has become more serious about his abilities as a wheelchair bowler. He joined the AWBA and began competing in the organization's tournaments. He will compete in the AWBA National Championships next month in Milwaukee.
But the most important thing Beam wants people to take from his accomplishment is that bowling is a sport for anyone confined to a wheelchair, not just those who want to be the best.
"The best thing about wheelchair bowling is you have that sense of camaraderie you have in sports," Beam said. "You don't have to be good, because anyone can bowl and it's fun for anyone no matter what your average is. But people can't get discouraged because I'm a testament to how you can start with a low average and make it to the top with hard work and perseverance."
Even with all the hard work Beam has put into the sport, he never imagined he would be celebrating a perfect game.
"Bowling a 300 game was something I never thought was possible, and I can't explain what it feels like," Beam said. "I threw the last ball and I knew I had hit my mark and everything was right. When it struck, I was overwhelmed. If I could have fallen to my knees, I would have."
The American Wheelchair Bowling Association, which certifies its competition with the United States Bowling Congress, has more than 500 members and conducts an average of 10 tournaments each year. For more information on the AWBA, visit AWBA.org.