A pair of county men have accomplished something only a handful of Americans can boast: Winning two gold medals in national competition.
Donal Carter and Timothy Lunsford, both 22, recently returned from Reno, Nev., where they earned two gold medals in the Special Olympics National Unified Bowling Tournament — the event that pits the best bowlers in the Special Olympics program against one another.
But despite the gold medals around their necks, that doesn’t mean the two think they’re the best bowlers in the country.
“In our division, yes, we’re the best,” Lunsford said shyly with a smile and a blush. “They base the competition on grouping similar teams by average. Our average was 210 combined, so all the teams were pretty equal.”
Carter was even more humble about the accomplishment.
“We won gold in our divisions,” he said. “We weren’t in the hardest division or the top division, but we won gold in both divisions we competed in.”
The competition paired a special-needs athlete with a non-special-needs competitor. Lunsford and Carter competed in both pairs and team competition, which grouped the two Surry County athletes with a two-member team from Mecklenburg County.
Carter credits the wins with the fact that Lunsford went out and bought a new ball after the first day of competition, which they said didn’t go as well as expected.
“We won because I bought a new bowling ball,” Lunsford said with a laugh. “The first day I used a house ball and let’s just say it didn’t go so well.”
“He bowled pretty good with that new ball,” Carter said, elbowing Lunsford in the ribs with a gleam in his eye. “On the first day he bowled his average of 98. The second day, with the new ball, he bowled a 341.”
At the end of the day, the pair beat the second-place team by 50 pins, bowling about 109 points above their four-game average.
They say “teamwork and strategy” helped them overcome the overwhelming competition.
“We were telling each other how to place the ball and really working together,” Lunsford said. “That made a whole lot of difference.”
Lunsford, who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, has been bowling since he was 14 and says he “loves it.”
“I usually bowl every Sunday from around 2 to 4 o’clock, and bowl around three games,” he said, noting that he practiced at Mount Airy Lanes leading up to the competition.
Carter is another story.
“I’ve only known Timmy for about a month,” he said, looking at his partner with a smile.
Lunsford was approached by his work supervisor about pairing with the special needs athlete.
“I committed, but was very skeptical,” he said. “But then I met Timmy and bowled with him for the first time and it just went from there.
“Once I saw how excited he was for the chance to go to Reno, I was sold,” Carter added. “He was so excited, and it was just great.”
After winning the national title, the pair are in the running to be selected to go to the Special Olympics world competition, but they say they aren’t holding their breath.
“I’m not sure when we would hear if we’re selected, or even when the games take place,” Carter said.
But that does little to dampen his enthusiasm, or the friendship with Lunsford that sprang from the experience.
“We’re good friends now,” he said with a smile at his partner. “We have really grown to like each other.”
“We had a ball down there,” Lunsford interjected with an easy laugh.
And Carter said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that he will forever remember.
“I’d never bowled before this. It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “But the thing I enjoyed most was that it gives all the athletes an equal opportunity to succeed. It’s almost like the Special Olympics athletes are another family in itself. This was my first event, and seeing it like this has really opened my eyes about how close the athletes are to one another.
“We weren’t the best team down there, I’m sure,” Carter added. “But we won the gold medals.”
“And it was all because of Timmy’s new ball.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.