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Bowling great Kelly Kulick trudges on after mother’s death

Kelly Kulick prepares to bowl at the PWBA U.S. Women's Open last summer in Addison, Ill.
Kelly Kulick prepares to bowl at the PWBA U.S. Women's Open last summer in Addison, Ill. USBC award logos

Kelly Kulick’s passion for bowling is at a low point after her mother, Carol, died late last year.

Kulick is on emotional autopilot as she competes each week but remains in peak form. She won the PWBA tour event last week in Sacramento, her first win since Carol’s death.

Kulick, who competes this weekend in the Wichita Open at Northrock Lanes, is fifth on PWBA’s money list and has remained at an elite level since becoming the first woman, in 2010, to win a PBA event and defeat a man in the finals.

“The one thing I’ve learned mostly is that I’m still competitive,” the 40-year-old Kulick said. “Even in my own mental (condition of being) not 100 percent, my body is physically executing. I’m making cuts, I’m making money, which is great.”

Kulick’s love for bowling was nurtured by her mother as Kulick turned it not only into a career, but a calling.

“She wasn’t a bowler in her own right, but she supported me in my endeavors, knowing that I could be a professional bowler,” Kulick said. “She said, ‘You know, she’s not going to get rich at it, but she can make a living at it and be OK with it.’ Because of these other avenues that have opened, it has been even better.”

Bowling has allowed Kulick not only to travel the world, but to branch out within the sport. She has been nominated for an ESPY award and been featured in ESPN the Magazine’s annual Body Issue, which celebrates the physiques of top athletes.

Kulick has worked as an analyst for television broadcasts and even been featured in a Spiderman comic.

“Because of the success … it opened up windows and doors for me that I never imagined walking through or climbing through,” Kulick said. “I’ve traveled the world because of a bowling ball. I’ve seen many countries I never would have sat on a plane to go to. I’ve competed and won medals for my country, met some wonderful people across the world.

“As well as it has treated me, I’ve tried to return that respect to it.”

Kulick won PWBA events before the tour stopped in 2003 and has won since its resurrection in 2015. In between, she competed in the PBA and made history by defeating Wichita State alum Chris Barnes at the 2010 Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas.

The win over Barnes was exactly what Kulick had once imagined, just not exactly as she imagined it as she was growing up watching some of the sport’s legends.

“I always knew I was going to win a men’s title, believe it or not,” Kulick said. “I did know that. I thought it was going to be against Pete (Weber) or Walter Ray Williams Jr. It was just as sweet against Chris.”

Kulick has made a life in bowling, which makes her personal crossroads more difficult to navigate. She expects her love for the sport to return eventually, and in the meantime she has proven that doesn’t necessarily mean her ability will also wane.

“I feel like when I lost (my mom), I lost my love for bowling right now,” Kulick said. “I’m bowling every week, I’m coming back and I’m just trying to find my love right now. I’ve been doing it non-stop since I turned pro, even when there was no ladies tour, and I think I got a little burned out.”

Wichita Open

At Northrock Lanes

  • Qualifying round 1, noon Friday
  • Qualifying round 2, 6 p.m. Friday
  • Cashers’ round, 8:30 a.m. Saturday
  • Match play, 1 p.m. Saturday
  • Stepladder finals, 5 p.m. Saturday