The 79-year-old man stood with his back to the lane, his white leather shoes together at the heels and splayed at the toes, his legs straight and shoulders slumped into the ball cradled in his hands.
He was looking at something on the floor.
Then he turned around, walked forward and hooked his ball into the center pin.
The pins crashed into the gutters; it looked like a strike, but three pins stood on the right.
He shook his head and squeezed his lips together. Then he cleaned the last three up with his spare ball.
“I had some shoulder surgery a little while ago and I’m trying to get back into it,” said Jerry Norris, a regular at the Soldotna Senior Center.
Norris, like the other roughly 30 seniors bowling at Alaskalanes Family Bowling Center on Thursday morning in Kenai, was competing in the Senior Olympics. While they were joking, smiling and cheering each other on, they were serious, said Betty Osborn, the secretary of the Golden Oldies senior bowling league.
“Oh yeah, we’re competitive. You bet ya’,” the 78-year-old said. “We try to bowl good when we can. Sometimes we don’t.”
Osborn said they are all competitive with themselves — that’s how they get better — but on that day, they were bowling for something more: the Traveling Senior Plaque.
The plaque, coveted by all area senior centers, has been hanging in the Nikiski Senior Center the past two years, Soldotna Senior Center Director Jan Fena said.
“They really vie for that traveling plaque,” she said.
The Senior Olympics was comprised of 12 games — basketball, darts, bridge and other various card games, pool, water walking, a walk-a-thon — and spanned Tuesday to Saturday in Nikiski, Kenai, Soldotna and Sterling.
At the awards ceremony on Saturday, the top three competitors in each discipline were awarded Olympic medals, each worth points, that went toward the grand prize, the plaque.
By Saturday afternoon, the Kenai Senior Center had been awarded first, with 175 points, breaking the Nikiski center’s streak — but just barely. Nikiski came in second, with 165 points, and Soldotna fell to third at 120 points.
Bowling Thursday, seniors from the Kenai and Soldotna centers said they badly wanted to take the plaque from Nikiski. They’d had it long enough, they said.
“It’s senior centers against senior centers,” Osborn said. She was standing several lanes down from Norris, watching her team bowl.
She said she recognized all the people bowling. A lot of them, she said, are old friends who had left the warmth of their senior centers, broken out of the gray monotony of winter and traveled to the bowling alley to have fun.
“That’s what it’s all about, having a good time, being around people and having a good time,” she said, adding: “Seniors don’t need to be staying at home. They need to get out and be with other people. … Like I said, seniors should not be sitting about the house all the time. That makes you old.”
The Senior Olympics keeps them young, she said.
The seniors look forward to the Olympics every year and come back each year “as long we’re healthy,” Osbron said, looking at Norris. He had pulled up a chair and was sitting, watching his friends.
“Jerry was a good bowler,” she said. About three years ago he won the state championship for his age. “He had surgery on his shoulder. He’s got to get used to it.”
Norris stood up from his chair and stepped down through his friends to his ball.
He said his shoulder was not bothering him; it was his new spare ball, he said. It curves, and it’s not supposed to.
He grabbed his strike ball and rolled through his normal routine — back to the alley, fixed gaze — and threw the same right-curving ball that swooped in at an angle.
He said he has to hit the one-and-three or one-and-two pocket. “The more curve you get into that pocket, the better the hit,” he had said.
He paused after his ball hit, turned around, a faint smile on his face, and walked through his friends’ high fives, “nice jobs,” fist bumps and low fives.
Back at the end of his lane, a mechanical arm popped out and swept off 10 fallen pins. It was a strike.
Sitting back down in his chair, watching a friend grab a ball, he smiled and said, “There’s some luck to it, too.”
Editor's Note: The first paragraph of this story was edited to correct a mispelled word.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.