Rachel Carver has a white cane in one hand and a bowling ball in the other. Her husband leads her up to the foul line and points her in the direction of the pins.
She lets go of her bowling ball. This one appears headed for the gutter, but the bumpers alongside the alley deflect the ball back toward the pins. She knocks down eight.
A few minutes later she picks up a spare.
Not bad for a blind woman.
Except for Rachel's husband, Kevin Carver, members of the Outlook Nebraska Inc. bowling league have varying degrees of visual impairment. They get together every Sunday night from April to August to enjoy a night of bowling at Mockingbird Lanes.
“They have been really good to us,” Rachel Carver said.
“Calling us a league might be kind of a stretch,” said Janis Compton. “We're not as formal as a real league.”
And not as big.
Two of the group's regular bowlers, Joshua Scarborough and Tony Engle, were missing on a recent Sunday evening, so there were only five bowlers. Katie Larson and James Harvey filled out the lineup.
On hand to assist the bowlers in addition to Kevin were Compton's husband, Howard, and Larson's mother, Lisa.
Outlook Nebraska Inc. is the AbilityOne manufacturer of toilet tissue and paper towel products. The AbilityOne Program is a federal purchasing program that enables blind and visually impaired people to work and provide products and services for the U.S. government and commercial customers. Outlook Nebraska has 60 employees; about three-fourths of them are blind or have a visual impairment.
CEO Eric Stueckrath and Human Resources Director Mark Plutschak came up with the idea of a bowling league for employees about three years ago.
“We pride ourselves on having a family-friendly atmosphere here,” Stueckrath said, adding that the company wants to provide employees opportunities to spend time with one another outside of work and to offer experiences that help them build confidence.
In addition to bowling, activities have included trips to the zoo and Fun-Plex amusement park; baseball, basketball, football and hockey games; and a dueling pianos program. Outlook Nebraska has an annual picnic. At its recent golf tourney, there was a golf clinic for the blind. They've also tackled skiing.
“We do all the things sighted people do,” said Rachel Carver, who has been blind since birth and handles Outlook Nebraska's communications and public relations. “We just have to use different tools. ”
The league has a dual purpose, said Janis Compton, who is an administrative assistant at Outlook Nebraska.
“Aside from the fun, we educate people,” she said. “People see us out doing ordinary things like everyone else.”
There are differences, of course. For these bowlers, the bumpers keep balls in the alley. Sighted helpers either lead the bowlers to the foul line or they spot for the bowlers, telling them how many pins are left standing and where they are located.
“I can see blurry images, but no detail,” Compton said.
Larson, who has some physical problems in addition to her limited sight, uses a ramp that allows her to position and roll her ball down the alley.
“It's hard to explain how I do it,” she said.
But reaction to spares, strikes, splits, near misses and good or bad games is universal. There's plenty of clapping, cheering, laughing and, of course, moaning.
Harvey, 39, said he is thankful for the chance to bowl every week. He thinks more Outlook Nebraska employees would like to participate but can't.
“Transportation is a problem for any activity we attempt,” Compton said. “It's a limiting factor for pretty much everything we do.”
Carver, 26, said the league is considering opening up to visually impaired bowlers outside the Outlook Nebraska family. One mother of a blind child already has inquired about the possibility, she said.
“It's good exercise, but it's also a way for us to get out of our comfort zones,” Carver said.
Above all, though, for the bowlers, “it's all about the fun,” Compton said.
“The blind aren't that different from the rest of us,” said Compton's husband, Howard. “They really have the same likes and dislikes. They just don't see as well.”