Oldest Special Olympics bowler still knockin’ down the pins

Elderly woman with disabilities using a ball ramp to roll bowling ball down the lane

As far as Murriel Thompson is concerned, bum knees and senior status are no reason to hang up her bowling shoes. “To see people — that’s what I like,” she said. “And I’m pretty good, right?”

Thompson definitely is a good bowler. And at 78, she’s also the oldest female athlete actively competing as a Franklin County Flyer.

“People often think of Special Olympics athletes as being in a certain age group, but that’s not the case,” said Ryan Phillips, director of Special Olympics, community recreation and aquatics at the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

“The fact that we have someone who’s knockin’ on 80 and still having fun out here is pretty cool,” he said. “And it’s a great example for our other athletes.”

Thompson has made a few concessions to age in recent years, switching to a ball ramp. The ramp allows her to roll the ball toward the pins by releasing it at the top of the ramp. Most important, the modest piece of adaptive equipment makes it easy for her to keep enjoying her favorite sport.

“I started in the recreation department in about 1990, and Murriel was with us then,” said Mike Butchko of the Franklin County Special Olympics staff. “We had Friday night dances and Saturday morning bowling. She’s very sociable.”

Bowling is wildly popular among Franklin County athletes. Phillips thinks that’s because it offers great opportunities for social interaction as well as friendly competition. “It’s a lifelong activity that people can do from the time they’re young, with lane bumpers, on up to Murriel’s age,” he said.

The Flyers have wrapped up fall bowling; Thompson keeps her game up through Franklin County Recreation during the winter. “Murriel loves to be on the go,” said her support provider, Amy Thomas. “She’s very sweet, very kind-hearted — and very competitive.”

Murriel Thompson, 78, loves to keep busy. She’s the oldest bowler and the oldest female athlete actively competing as a Franklin County Flyer.