By Matt Cannizzaro and Brian Hirsch
LAS VEGAS – Antonio Zapata of San Antonio may not be in contention for an Eagle this year at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, but he felt like a champion as he helped lead a recent team squad to the lanes at the South Point Bowling Plaza.
Zapata, who is 15 years old and wheelchair-bound, definitely is one of the tournament’s biggest fans, and his love and support for the event can be felt by everyone he encounters.
Each year, he looks forward to attending the USBC Open Championships with his mother, Danielle Rabidas, and grandfather, Richard Rabidas, who have attended four and 23 tournaments, respectively. It was their squad he escorted to the lanes at the Bowling Plaza.
“This is my first time to the South Point Bowling Plaza, and it is very overwhelming,” Zapata said. “I cannot believe how large the bowling area is.”
Zapata has been to almost every tournament since 2003, watching, cheering and even doing a little coaching.
He also has had the pleasure of meeting countless bowlers and staff from all over the world, and he treasures the opportunity to reconnect with many of those friends during his annual trip to the event.
“In the years we come to bowl and don’t bring Antonio, everyone asks where he is,” Danielle Rabidas said. “The staff and other bowlers look forward to seeing him every year, and it means a lot to us.”
Being in Las Vegas for the 2017 Open Championships turned out to be more special than Zapata ever could’ve expected, as Professional Bowlers Association stars Chris Barnes and Jason Belmonte also were competing, giving him the chance to meet the duo.
“This year is awesome,” Zapata said.
As he got older, Zapata needed a wheelchair that would better suit his needs, but it came with a $25,000 price tag. With the help of friends and bowlers, the family was able to raise more than $9,000 through a GoFundMe page, and that helped offset the total cost.
A self-proclaimed 300 average bowler on his iPad video game, Zapata also likes to knock down some actual pins when he gets the chance and often finds time to go bowling with his Special Olympics teammates.
Before leaving The Entertainment Capital of the World following their 2017 Open Championships campaign, Zapata and his family planned to enjoy some of the sights Las Vegas has to offer.
Among the must-see places were M&M World, World of Coca-Cola and the world-famous Fremont Street Experience.
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