BATTLE GROUND — Ariel Goldsworth is well known around the bowling circles of Clark County, even if most people don’t know her by name.
“Whenever I’m out bowling and meeting new people, they ask me about myself,” the Prairie High School senior said. “I just tell them I’m the girl who got her thumb stuck in the ball. And they’ll be like ‘Oh, that was you!?!”
Goldsworth’s moment of fame — or infamy — dates back to Dec. 16 of last year, when the Falcons were opening a match against R.A. Long.
Goldsworth approached the lane and let go of the ball, but the ball did not let go of her.
Her thumb got stuck in the ball on her release, causing a complete tear of the tendon in her thumb.
“Ariel is a strong girl,” Prairie coach Donn Bash said. “She throws a 15-pound ball, which is heavier than most high school girls throw. And she shoots it with such force, that the ball just flew up in the air. All I remember is looking at her and seeing the ball suspended almost above her head. I was worried that it might hit her on the head. But it fell down right next to her on the foul line.”
Goldsworth never saw the ball fly into the air. She grabbed her hand and spun around in pain.
“It’s the most serious bowling injury I’ve ever seen in more than 20 years in bowling,” Bash said. “And the thing that makes this so unusual is when you talk to other bowling people, they’ve never heard of such an injury.”
But even such a severe injury was not easy to diagnose. X-rays showed no break, so the original diagnosis was a severe sprain.
Days turned into weeks, and Goldsworth showed no signs of improvement. She had a swollen hand and a lot of pain.
“I was on every kind of pain medication you can think of,” Goldsworth said. “Every time I would go to the doctors, they would ask ‘How did you do this?’ I even had one doctor look at my hand and say ‘I don’t know.’ ”
Eventually, the injury was diagnosed and surgery was performed, but that came almost a month later.
“I was told that if it had gone on longer without being fixed, I might have lost use of my hand,” Goldsworth said.
Even with the tendon repaired and weeks of therapy, Goldsworth faced the possibility that her bowling days may be over.
That was something she was not ready to accept.
Ironically, a week prior to the injury, she was ready to give up the sport.
Goldsworth first took up bowling in fifth grade, but she said she didn’t become serious about the game until she joined the Prairie bowling team during her sophomore year.
She began bowling as a release.
On Dec. 9, 2006, her father, Bill Goldsworth, died of cancer at the age of 53.
Looking for an outlet for her grief, she turned to bowling.
“I wasn’t very good as sophomore,” she said. “I was averaging like 105, 110. But I was bowling. It was something to take my mind off other things.”
Improvement came with time. By the start of her junior season, Goldsworth’s average was up to 140 and she had worked her way onto Prairie’s varsity squad.
But Goldsworth admits she wasn’t the greatest teammate.
“I used to get mad when I was bowling,” she said. “I’d get mad at myself, mad at my teammates, mad at my coach.”
Frustration, mixed with grief, culminated on Dec. 9, 2008, the two-year anniversary of her father’s death.
On that day, Goldsworth walked into practice at Tiger Bowl with her Prairie bowling shirt in hand, prepared to tell Bash she was quitting.
Bash talked her out of it.
“We went back into the dining area here, and we talked,” Bash said. “We talked for a while, about a lot of things. But in the end, I just asked what her father would want her to do.”
Goldsworth remained with the team. A week later a freak injury ended her season, but not her commitment to bowling or to her teammates.
“Ariel kept coming to practice and to matches after she was hurt,” Bash said. “She was here for her teammates, and they were here for her.”
Goldsworth worked to get back into bowling, no matter if she improved or got worse.
By the following summer, she was back with a ball in her hand.
“Before I threw that first ball, I must have stood there for 15 or 20 minutes,” she said.
This fall, Goldsworth returned to the team, where she now is among the leaders for a squad that has aspirations of reaching the state tournament.
She’s a better bowler now than she was before the injury, with an average of 155. But the biggest improvement has been in her attitude.
“I just realized that ‘hey, you’re out here bowling. Why not have fun?” Goldsworth said.
“Now when I’m here, I’m free. If I’ve had a bad day or did poorly on a test, I come out here and leave that all behind.”
And when she’s with her teammates, she’s with her second family.
“When you come out for this team, you are accepted,” she said. “No matter if you’re good or not, if you’re a senior or a freshman, if you’re on varsity or the C squad, you’re accepted.”
On Monday, Goldsworth returned to Triangle Bowl, the site of her freak injury. She bowled games of 189 and 152 as Prairie lost to R.A. Long.
But the real winner was Goldsworth. She’s bowling again. She’s having fun again.
And that might not have happened if not for a freak injury that tore a tendon in her thumb, but couldn’t tear her from the game and teammates she loves.