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PUSH START: How One Step Sent Shannon Pluhowsky On Her Way To Four Gold Medals

To say Team USA bowler Shannon Pluhowsky enjoyed success at the 2011 World Tenpin Bowling Association World Women’s Championships in Hong Kong would be like saying Earl Anthony was a decent bowler.

All the 29-year-old lefty from Kettering, Ohio, did in Hong Kong was become the first bowler in the history of the world championships to earn four gold medals. She stood on the medal stand’s top step following doubles, trios, team and masters competition.

The exclamation point to Pluhowsky’s week-long run was a 3-1 triumph over Singapore’s Daphne Tan in the Masters finale, in which she tossed 300 and 299. Given the fact Team USA’s world championships sextet included such high-profile bowlers as Liz Johnson, Kelly Kulick and Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, Pluhowsky might not have been the most likely candidate for a dominating individual performance.

Not that she was surprised, mind you. “I wouldn’t say I was surprised by how well I did,” Pluhowsky said without the slightest hint of bravado. “I know I can bowl well, and I’ve bowled well before in major competition. I know what I’m capable of.”

True, Pluhowsky, who has been a Team USA member for a decade, has an impressive resume. She’s the only bowler to win three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles, and won the USBC Queens crown as an amateur in 2006. Pluhowsky also has three Professional Bowlers Association Women’s Series titles to her credit, including back-to-back wins in 2009.

Still, her incredible success in Hong Kong probably seemed unlikely near the end of the team’s formal training camp at the International Training and Research Center in Arlington, Texas, in July.

“I focused a lot on my physical game there,” Pluhowsky recalled. “It seemed like every couple of shots I’d throw it bad and I didn’t know why. That’s the most frustrating thing as a bowler. “Right before we were getting ready to leave, [Team USA Assistant Coach] Kim [Terrell-Kearney] and I were working together and we drew onto something that we had been missing. I was pushing the ball away too late.” “Occasionally, Shannon battles her start,” said Terrell-Kearney. “She gets her pushaway started too late, and it affects her balance, leverage and accuracy.”

“I use a four-step approach,” noted Pluhowsky, “and I was pushing the ball away on my second step. When you do that, your foot is getting ahead of the ball so your swing is always behind. Then the problem gets compounded because the only way to catch up is to pull down from the top, which winds up making you throw the ball all over the place. “Mentally, I know that is a problem area for me. Throughout my career, if I’m struggling that’s the first spot I’m going to look. And more times than not that’s where my flaw is going to be.

“Physically,” she continued, “I used to try to over-exaggerate it. If my swing starts two seconds later than it’s supposed to, I would try to start two seconds earlier than it’s supposed to. I’d try to correct the problem by overcompensating.” The average league bowler, who doesn’t always have the luxury of a coach looking over his shoulder, can still detect and correct a tardy pushaway.

“One of the signs that you’re chasing your feet is that you turn your hand early,” said Pluhowsky. “And everyone knows that when you turn it early it makes the game a lot harder because you get more hook and a lot less accuracy. “The loss of accuracy comes from muscling the ball. With a four-step approach, your approach is only six seconds or so, so when you push away late there’s not a lot of time for your swing to catch up with your feet. To speed up your swing you tend to pull down from the shoulder, which is muscling the ball down to get it back into synch. But by muscling the ball you grab it at the bottom, which causes over-hook and a loss of accuracy. It’s hard to repeat shots that way.”

“So, a loss in accuracy might be a warning sign that your pushaway is an issue. “Being out of synch with your feet and pushaway will also affect your balance and leverage. It’s harder to stay on balance when you’re muscling the ball. You tend to fall off, and you’re not able to stay in the shot.”

Pluhowsky solved her pushaway dilemma by drawing on a childhood fairy tale. “In my mind I always say to myself, ‘Pinocchio,’” she admitted. “Pinocchio’s movements were controlled by a string. When you pull the string to move his arms, his legs move too. They moved together. Mentally, I pretend that my arm and foot are pulled by the same string, so if I want to take a step my arm has to move as well. “The Pinocchio idea helps paint a mental picture for me and gives me a feeling that it’s something I can repeat.”

Following training camp, Pluhowsky spent the next two months channeling her inner Pinocchio in preparation for the world championships. Once in Hong Kong, she continued to work with the Team USA coaches to make sure her game was in synch. “Once the competition started, there were a few times I consciously thought about it,” Pluhowsky said. “But once it’s engrained in your head and you get into a groove, you don’t really think about details. And once you get comfortable and trust that your rhythm is right, you can concentrate on simply making a good shot. It’s when you mess up that you start thinking about every little thing. “Physically, I felt really good in Hong Kong.” And that’s no lie!

Permission granted by USBC/Luby Publishing