Michigan bowler reaches emotional milestone

By Matt Cannizzaro and Wishelle Banks
USBC Communications 

RENO, Nev. - When Onalee Kraus of Coldwater, Mich., celebrated 50 years of United States Bowling Congress Women's Championships competition this week, it was about more than just being recognized for her dedication to the event - it was an emotional milestone in a journey that nearly ended a decade ago.

A major car accident in 2003 changed Kraus' life forever, but faith and hard work got the lifelong bowler back on the championship lanes, where her fondest memories are of the people she's met and bowled with.

Although she isn't back to the level of competition she was at prior to the accident, the 74-year-old right-hander still is focused on regaining her strength and form, but takes more time now to simply enjoy her company and surroundings.

"I used to be a 183 average, but I'm back down to the 130s," said Kraus, who bowls in a league at Angola Bowl in Angola, Ind. "I hope to gain my strength back. I throw the ball a lot differently. I broke seven fingers out of 10, and I went from a 15-pound ball to between a 13- and 14-pound ball. You throw it different, and your body hurts. But, like I said, it's fun with the girls."

Kraus made her Women's Championships debut at the 1957 event in Dayton, Ohio, and missed the 2003 and 2004 tournaments while recovering from the accident. Then, in 2006, it was discovered that her heart also was damaged in the accident and required a quadruple bypass, resulting in an absence from the tournament in 2006.

"In 2003, I wiped out with a semi-truck, and they literally cut me out of the car and took me to the hospital," said Kraus, who was in the hospital for several days and in therapy for months. "They didn't know what to work on first. I was bruised from head to toe. The seatbelt cut me almost in half, at least through my skin. They didn't think I'd ever walk again, or do anything."
When Kraus isn't bowling, she's enriching the lives of others in the Coldwater community as a lay minister. Coldwater is a lower-peninsula town near the border with Indiana and Ohio.
"I preach every Sunday," Kraus said. "I go to the nursing homes. Mainly, I preach at Drews Place, an assisted-living facility, in Coldwater. I've done that for more than 10 years. I also have a Bible study in my home every Tuesday. I'm a Red Hat Society leader, and I have 52 members. I really enjoy working with people. I enjoy the people no matter what we're doing. As far as bowling, I started very young, and my first score was 130. That was clear back in 1955. I'm retired now, but I'm doing more because I am retired."

With her loyal best friend, Sally Mase of Fremont, Ind., by her side, Kraus took the lanes at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center this weekend with a group of bowlers Kraus connected with through the Women's Championships Sub Board on BOWL.com.
"Being from Michigan, it was an idea of finding somebody on the bulletin board that needed a team, and we signed up with them last year," Kraus said. "We met these girls, and we've had an absolute ball."
While the accident did impact her memory, and her memories from the Women's Championships, Kraus vividly remembers one of her favorite tournaments.
"The one I really enjoyed was Toledo, Ohio, when I was on the WIBC (Women's International Bowling Congress) board, and we had the national tournament there. I worked with people, kept score, since we didn't have all this modern stuff like we do now, and tabbed everything, working day and night, because we were on the board. I enjoyed that very much. You see, in this accident, I was hit in the head quite badly, and I have forgotten a lot of things. It's not easy trying to remember things you can't remember. If it wasn't for a lot of my bowling pins and some of the pictures, I wouldn't have remembered, until I found them."

This year on the lanes, Kraus shot 401 in singles, 389 in team and 381 in doubles for a 1,171 scratch all-events total. She received an additional 12 pins of handicap per game to boost her Sapphire all-events score to 1,279.
In November, she and her husband, Jim, will celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary. Making memories off and on the lanes is a simple joy for Kraus, who says returning to the Women's Championships in 2014, definitely is on her radar, too.

The Sapphire Division consists of bowlers with averages of 149 and below, and handicap is 100 percent of 150.

Presenting sponsors for the 2013 USBC Women's Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno.