Clasping a crutch in his left hand and a bowling ball in his right, Luis Macias fell Friday while beginning a turn at St. Charles Bowl.
Cerebral palsy forces Macias to calculate his every move, so he doesn’t often hit the deck. Still, falls happen, which is enough for the 43-year-old St. Charles man to blush as deeply as his 13-pound orange-red ball.
“If the thumb gets stuck in the thumb hole and I forget to let go, I sometimes feel like I’m going to go down the lane like Barney Rubble,” Macias said. “If that happens, I just get up and try again. Just like everyone else.”
Macias took up bowling at 14, and it’s provided perspective ever since. He joined the Friday Night Mixers league at St. Charles Bowl in 1994 and has attended each week, often arriving three hours early. Macias finds leisure in a leisurely sport, but also self-reckoning. He rolls as his 145 average does. He’s happy with that.
If his “Flintstones” quip wasn’t a harbinger, Macias subtly slips self-deprecating cracks while discussing all aspects of his life. He is drawn to sports and his experiences with them, so that usually headlines his A-material.
He “skates without skates” when it’s icy outside and prefers bowling to golf because “unlike golf, the ball comes back sometimes.”
“It’s a great stress-reliever, the sport is,” Macias said. “When you’re having an off day, you can punish the pins instead of somebody else, like you see in the news lately.”
Matt Lally, a Marmion senior from St. Charles, knows Macias’ peace in bowling more than most. About 12 years ago, Lally was bowling with his mom and three siblings on a summer Friday afternoon when Macias, early for his league, casually approached.
“You should stop using the cheat bars,” smiled Macias, referring to the bumpers he never had in his formative days.
His advice has only grown more meaningful since.
Macias’ occasional bowling alley pointers soon produced dinner invitations from the Lallys. Although Macias is a little less mobile than in the past – he comfortably threw the football in the backyard on his first visit to the family home – he remains polite and poignant.
Lally said his father, Terry, has helped fund Macias’ league dues since Macias became unemployed in 2010. Sometimes, the Mexican-American Macias speaks to Lally exclusively in Spanish in a bid to help his foreign language grades. Other times, Macias offers input on women.
“I definitely have a close relationship with him,” Lally said. “I can tell him personal stuff. He gives me advice a lot.”
Of course, it all comes back to bowling, where Lally is happy to be anywhere close to even with Macias. Lally bowls about once a month, often with his self-taught mentor.
Before turning to the sport more seriously – including absorbing every tip from analyst Nelson Burton Jr. during ABC’s Saturday afternoon bowling telecasts – Macias observed others when he played for fun. His own motion happily is homespun.
Macias stands still upon walking within a few feet of the front of the lane before planting his crutch slightly in front of him. He then swings away, comparing his motion to horseshoes or bags.
Macias knows he’s not perfect, although the rumbling sound of falling pins sometimes makes him wonder if he and life aren’t harmoniously in sync. For a man born prematurely, deprived of six seconds of oxygen at birth and given bleak forecasts from doctors to even live past age 18, hitting the headpin always provides something simple:
“I proved them wrong,” said Macias, who recently began coaching youth bowling on Saturday mornings. “I proved to the teachers that [said] I wouldn’t make anything of myself. I’ve had factory jobs. I worked in an old-timers home [the Holmstad in Batavia], bakeries and other places like that. I’ve tried to have, how you say, as normal a life as possible despite the physical challenges that I have. I try not to let it stop me from my life goals, my personal goals.
“If anything else, I try to inspire others, give hope to those who may become disabled later, but also give hope to those who have self doubt in themselves. Try to show them if I can do something, then so can you.”
Macias’ five siblings live in the United States, along with his father – a Mexico native – and stepmother. Macias’ mother died in 2007.
Born in Aurora, Macias lived in Batavia for a few years before the family moved to St. Charles in 1975. He graduated from Elgin High School in 1988, or “back when MTV was still good.”
Macias began driving about 10 years ago and uses his 1999 Ford Taurus SE as another potential avenue for grins, saying, “When my car works, I drive. When my car don’t work, I walk.”
By whatever measure, the bowling alley is a favorite destination. Macias recently picked up a Wednesday league at Bowling Green in West Chicago, but identifies St. Charles Bowl as the place where he cultivated his love for the sport. And people.
“He can get along with anybody,” St. Charles Bowl manager Toni McGarry said. “He is a friendly guy.”
A friendly guy with a ball and a message: Don’t bother with the “cheating bars”. Just play life straight.