Asbaty Strikes Down Bowling Stereotypes

Diandra Asbaty is a bowler. It says so on her IRS return. But when she meets people for the first time, they often express surprise.

"They say, 'You don't look like a bowler,' " she says, laughing. "I get that all the time. I say, 'Well, what does a bowler look like?' And they talk about The Big Lebowski or any movie where the bowlers are overweight guys who drink too much."

Asbaty, 25, doesn't drink, isn't overweight and is not a guy. She is 5-5, 130. But she throws a mean game — mean enough at times to beat many of the trim guys on the Professional Bowlers Association tour.

Tuesday she'll begin competition in Milwaukee in the United States Bowling Congress Masters, a major on the PBA tour and an open tournament, meaning amateurs such as herself can play. Last year Asbaty was first among seven female entries and 25th overall, ahead of more than 500 men.

"I like bowling against men," she says. "I don't look at them any differently than women. Bowling is bowling, and I know what it takes. And it is a lot — a lot — mental. People have this misconception that bowling is all about strength. It's not.

"I bowl with a 15-pound ball, and it's so much about timing and balance and being fluid. We want our arm swings to be as loose as possible. You don't want big muscles in your bowling arm. ... We want the weight of the ball to swing our arm. Less is more."

Asbaty (pronounced as-BAY-dee) says all this with the earnest zeal of a missionary evangelizing for her sport. Women's professional bowling went under in 2003 when the PWBA ceased operations after 40 years. The U.S. Bowling Congress took over ownership and is looking for sponsors to revive it in the years ahead.

Most everyone has bowled, Asbaty says, yet not many know about the sport at its highest levels.

The same people who tell her she doesn't look like a bowler also "tell me they think it's really cool that's what I do," she says. "And then they tell me their high score. That always happens. Everybody's got a bowling story, you know."

Hers goes like this: Diandra Hyman, at 5, began bowling with her grandmother. Often stayed up until midnight on school nights as a teen practicing at smoky local lanes. Married bowler John Asbaty and is living happily ever after in Chicago — a fairy tale in size 7 bowling shoes.

Crazy schedule

Betty Soy bought a bowling ball as a Christmas present for her granddaughter, Kassy Hyman, when the girl was 5. Soy often took Kassy to the lanes in Dyer, Ind., for a children's league Saturday mornings and sometimes Kassy's little sister, Diandra, would come along. She wanted to bowl, too, but she was three years younger. When Diandra turned 5, Grandma bought her a bowling ball.

"I'm so happy I bought that ball," says Soy, 78. "Turned out pretty well, didn't it?"

Asbaty eventually quit her pee-wee soccer team to give more time to bowling. The sisters got better and better over the years.

"I didn't realize I could actually go somewhere with bowling until I was 12 or 13," Asbaty says. "I wanted to be the best I could be, and I knew to be that, you have to put in the time."

Local leagues had the lanes in the evenings, so their father, Dennis, began taking his girls bowling at 9:30 or 10 at night. They would bowl until around midnight.

"We had a really strange schedule," says their mother, Kandi. "The kids would come home from school and I would make them do their homework and take a nap before dinner. I was the one who had to be the bad guy."

Dennis Hyman runs a family auto supply business on Chicago's South Side with three brothers. When his girls were young, he would drive about 30 miles home to Dyer and take his own nap after dinner before squiring them to the lanes.

Didn't his friends think that schedule was a little crazy? "I'm sure they thought it," he says, "but they never said it."

His daughters' talent attracted top coaching and soon the girls traveled to youth tournaments in the Midwest.

"People would tell us we were really good — and we actually believed them," says Kassy, the bigger star then. She went to Wichita State, where she was an all-America bowler.

"When I picked Nebraska, I decided maybe it was time to break out of the shadow and become Diandra instead of Kassy's little sister," Asbaty says.

"Now I'm Diandra's big sister," says Kassy Golden, 28, who lives in Colorado Springs with her husband, Scott, and daughter Blaize, 3, who bowls a bit.

Colorado Springs is where Asbaty comes one week a year to practice at the Olympic Training Center with her teammates on Team USA, although bowling is not an Olympic sport. Team USA competes in the Pan Am Games and other international competitions.

Only amateurs can compete on Team USA. Amateur bowlers are allowed to earn prize money (Asbaty won $1,200 for 25th place at last year's Masters) and sign endorsements (she has several small deals).

'Really cute'

John Asbaty bowled for William Patterson College in New Jersey when he met his future wife, who bowled for Nebraska. He later transferred to Nebraska.

"My first thought when we met was, 'Wow. She's really cute,' " he says. "And my second thought was, 'Wow. She's a really great bowler.' "

They settled in Chicago, where she can be near her parents and two airports and where he is a chef at Alinea, a fine downtown restaurant.

She is also 90 minutes from the high-tech research facility behind the U.S. Bowling Congress headquarters in suburban Milwaukee. She often goes there to practice on lanes that can be adapted to the exact oil pattern and synthetic surface she will encounter on international trips.

"I usually drive to Milwaukee with about 45 balls in the car to test the different lane conditions," Asbaty says.

That's 675 pounds of bowling balls. How many does she own? "Probably 70, but I'm trying to cut back."

She takes six balls on international trips. "Sometimes I'm at the airport thinking, 'Why didn't I take up pingpong?' "

The U.S. Bowling Congress is glad she didn't. Its leaders want to make her the face of the game. She sits on the USBC board of directors and was recently named its spokesperson for youth bowling. She was the cover girl for the inaugural issue of U.S. Bowler magazine, which goes to its 2.5 million members. And her powerful, graceful form is the focus of a TV commercial promoting the USBC.

Asbaty says she is looking forward to the six-day Masters tournament that begins Tuesday. She has fond memories of last year's.

"Last year, at the Masters, I made a couple of the cuts in the head-to-head matches," she says. "After one of them, a man from the crowd came up to me and said, 'You know, I was watching you bowl, and you gave me chills.'

"I was amazed. To be able to affect someone emotionally, someone I don't even know, was just so amazing to me. I get chills myself just thinking about that."

Source: USA Today, November 15, 2005, www.usatoday.com/sports/bowling/2005-11-14-asbaty_x.htm

Related Issue: Notable Women

*    *    *

©1996-2019 by of Gordon Clay