Jenny Wonders always had the potential to reach a high level of success as a bowler, but to do so she had to overcome the effects of a debilitating autoimmune disease.
The 35-year-old Roscoe resident attained the highest achievement of her career last month when she topped 19,000 bowlers in her division to capture the all-events national title at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships in Las Vegas. It’s an accomplishment that not long ago seemed unlikely for Wonders, who’s dealt with a string of health issues over the past decade.
“It still has not really sunk in,” Wonders said. “I don’t know if it’ll ever really sink in.”
Wonders was diagnosed with lupus at the age of 11, but it wasn’t until her mid-20s that the disease started to significantly interfere with the sport she’s been playing for more than 30 years.
Growing up in Racine, Wisconsin, Wonders seemed destined to excel on the lanes from an early age. She spent much of her childhood in a bowling alley as the daughter of Hillside Lanes owner Rich Wonders, a USBC Hall of Famer and a former member of Team USA. The three-time Wisconsin state tournament champion began competing at age 4, and by the time she was 16 she was competing in adult leagues while quickly becoming one of the most promising young bowlers in the state.
“When she was between 18 and 25 years old, she was scaring me with her talent,” Rich Wonders said.
But even with all of that talent, the health setbacks that she began suffering at age 25 had her doubting her ability to return to bowling at a high level.
“I got to a point where I kind of resigned myself to maybe I was never going to be an elite bowler like I was in my late teens and early 20s before things started up,” Wonders said. “I had to make myself OK with that mentally because otherwise, I would’ve given up, I think because I was bowling so bad and was not competitive at a level I was used to.”
Along with the chronic, debilitating fatigue that comes with lupus, Wonders also has had to battle other health problems over the past decade that were directly related to the disease.
“With what she’s been through, she’s done really well,” Rich Wonders said.
She’s broken her left foot three times and right foot twice. She had a bacterial infection in her right leg that forced her to have a large portion of her calf cut out. She also had an elbow infection and underwent surgery on her left hip.
But not even the worst setbacks made her think about giving up her sport.
“I’m a lot of things, but a quitter isn’t one,” she said. “Just looking back at everything that I went through and how difficult it was to now doing something few people thought I would ever do after watching me bowl the last five-10 years, it’s really satisfying.”
What makes her accomplishment all the more satisfying is the fact that she now shares a rare accomplishment with her father, a five-time USBC national champion. They’re the only father-daughter duo to ever earn USBC national titles.
“That is probably the most special part,” she said. “To have my name in the history books forever with his is the best part of this whole thing for me.”