DELAND — She has bowled religiously for 20 years. She won the bowling doubles, a city tournament, not once but twice.
She competed at the state level four times. She bowled a 200 once, her highest game ever. She was in the zone, every movement clicking, racking up the strikes and spares.
Every movement doesn't click anymore. For Vinnie Wasson, dexterity and balance — bowling's key requirements — are hard to come by now. She has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, which attacks the brain cells and spinal cord.
The illness — diagnosed in 2006 — has made it increasingly difficult for Wasson, 60, of Deltona to wiggle her fingers and swing the bowling ball across the lanes. It has affected her balance when she walks up and down stairs and impaired her speech. Her left hand now performs most of her everyday tasks, including writing down her needs when she is not understood.
She thought she would never bowl again.
But the women in the Fred Cone Thursday Night Ladies League — Barbara Foley, Marie Longo, Holly Hansen and Lois Mott — would not let her give up the game.
"They inspire me," Wasson says, after the women took turns describing Wasson's moments of triumph at the lanes.
They got her a special bowling rack typically used for people with special needs. The women take turns adjusting the rack. Wasson pushes the ball with her left hand.
"It is good exercise for her. You use every muscle in the body when you're bowling," Foley says.
"We can't let her quit," Mott chimes in. "She's the one who gets us the points."
At a table near the bowling lane during a recent Thursday night, Wasson moves her eyes from one friend to the next as they talk about a recent event and another coming up. They become her translators when Wasson feels she is not understood.
"Everybody is very friendly," she says, speaking slowly so she can be understood.
The smile on her face, looking at her friends, conveys as much or more than the difficult words.
Wasson said she is in the process of getting computer software to help her communicate with others at the stroke of a key. It will be a voice to tell her husband or three children when she is no longer able to do things herself, when she's thirsty, hungry or wants to go outside.
Wasson didn't tell everyone when she first learned she had ALS.
One day, Frank Houston of Deltona was bowling several lanes away and saw her struggling with a 14 1/4-pound bowling ball.
He brought her a slightly smaller one, assuming she was simply using the wrong size.
Many at the Sunshine Lanes now know about her illness.
Another friend is letting her use a 13-pound bowling ball. Her teammates help her adjust the metal bowling rack when it's her turn. Regulars at the bowling alley let her take her shot before they roll their bowling balls.
During a recent game, her teammates cheered and gave her a high five for getting a strike.
"She just wants to be one of the girls," Houston said.
The league recently recognized her with a plaque for her courage to continue bowling and the "girls" told her they will keep her in the league for as long as she wants to play.
"She's always going to have a spot here," Foley said. "This is her spot."