NOT MANY HALL OF FAME athletes would feel privileged to wheel hospital gurneys for a living once their playing days ended. But Patty Costello, who rose to the top of the women's pro ranks in the 1970s and '80s and now works in "hospital transportation," never fell prey to the Entitlement Syndrome.
"Bowling was my job then; this is my job now. In both cases, I've always been happy to meet people, talk to them, and get them feeling good to be around me," Costello says.
Costello, now 54, had a job some people only dream of: She was a professional athlete, competing on the PWBA tour. Despite never having picked up a bowling ball before age 16, the lefty showed right away that she had the stuff to be a champion.
"I averaged around 135 in my first year of bowling and won the Maryland state junior handicap championship," she recalls. "After a couple of years I joined the adult leagues, got better at the game, and went to as many tournaments as I could. In 1969, I saved up some money, got a loan from my dad, and went to the BPAA All-Star. I thought I was a real hotshot and was going to win it all. How do you like that?"
Costello got her comeuppance at the All-Star (now U.S. Open) from one of the best, two-time Bowler of the Year Dotty Fothergill, who won the event. But the New England star took a liking to the newcomer she had whupped, and the two became close friends. Fothergill even invited Costello to spend a few months with her in Massachusetts so that she could work with Costello on her game.
To onlookers, it was an unlikely Mutt-and-Jeff pairing: Fothergill was petite, chatty, and in constant motion, while Costello was bigger, more deliberate, and more reserved. "Dotty didn't have a lot of friends; she was so good that a lot of people were envious of her," Costello suggests. "But we were both lefties, and I think she thought I was kind of feisty. We hit it off fine. Meeting Dotty was definitely one of the turning points in my life."
Helped by Fothergill's tutelage, Costello crashed the winner's circle within a year, capturing her fifth pro event, the 1970 PWBA Columbia 300 Open. She took two more titles before year's end and two more the following year.
It turned out those early successes were just the appetizers. Costello delivered the entree in 1972, winning six of 11 PWBA tournaments and, for dessert, the Bowling Writers Association of America's Bowler of the Year award.
Unfortunately, Costello went on a three-year crash diet after 1972's feast, although not by her own choosing. Changing lane conditions rendered her full-roller ball track useless, and she had to adjust to stay in the game. "There was a lot more oil on the lanes starting late in 1972, double oil in the heads that went down 40 or 45 feet," she recalls. "In 1975, I began changing to a semi-roller, which was difficult. In practice, I would roll two full-rollers to every semi-roller shot."
The persistence paid off in 1976, when Costello won a record seven events (out of 15 tournaments), three titles in a row, her third PWBA national championship, and the U.S. Open, the memory of which she particularly relishes. "Betty Morris was way ahead of me in qualifying, but I caught her to become qualifying leader. Then she fired a 300 game against me in the first game of match play and pulled ahead again--and I caught her again and doubled in the 10th to win. That was pretty nice!"
The BWAA again anointed Costello Bowler of the Year. She couldn't wait to get back on the lanes in 1977.
But Costello's name appears on the list of 1977 winners just once, and you won't find her at all in 1978. She can joke about it a little now--"I only do well in leap years"--but the truth is that a tragic event in 1977 thrust her into a netherworld for the next several years.
"I was very close to my father," Costello explains. "My parents came to watch me do commentary for a local TV bowling show that year, and before we went on the air, I turned to them and said, `Hey, you must know someone to get such good seats.' My dad said, `Yeah,' and we laughed. I turned back around and 10 seconds later he was dead of a heart attack. Right there at the TV studio lanes. Gone."
Costello was undone by her father's sudden death. She began having anxiety attacks during competition, and she developed a fear of dying. "I used to go to the hospital emergency rooms and just stay in them all night," she says. "The tournament I won in Miami [the 1977 PWBA Miami Classic], my mother made me go to it and I didn't want to. I cried through the whole thing."
"Patty was terribly depressed for a long time after her dad's death," recalls Pearl Keller, founder and director of the Women's All-Star Association (WASA) tournament group, of which Costello was a charter member in 1971. "We were all worried about her. We feared she would have a nervous breakdown."
Costello battled her demons for two more years. "A lot of things hit me at once, and I couldn't handle it all," she says. "I was so ultrasensitive to everything around me that I could feel the hair on my arms standing straight up, and no one could comprehend that. I would go to doctors and tell them my symptoms, and they'd look at me like I was ready for the psych ward. It was an awful, lonely place to be.
"Eventually, I reached the point where I got strong enough to say, `OK, God, you want to give me more? Go ahead, I can deal with it.' And that's when my mind took over, and I took back control over my life."
Costello won three titles from 1979 through 1981, then went through another three-year dry spell. "More adaptation," Costello says about coping with changes in equipment and lane conditions. She jumped back into the spotlight in 1985 with three championships, including the Tournament of Champions, and was voted Player of the Year by her peers. She won one more title--the 1986 Ebonite Firebolt Classic--before calling it a career in 1988 with 25 pro victories, more than any other woman in bowling history up to that point.
"I made the decision halfway through 1988, when I kept seeing people finishing 400, 500, 600 pins ahead of me," she chuckles. "It just got to the point where I couldn't keep up with the constant changes, and didn't want to. I felt like I had to resort to dropping the ball to strike--a really well-executed shot would leave a weak 7-pin--and that wasn't very satisfying."
Costello went home to Scranton, Pa., and sold autos for eight years. The bowling bug bit her for the last time in 1993. Costello had amassed 29 WASA titles over the years, and she thought she'd try for 30 one last time. "I practiced for three months, averaged 226 in the tournament and finished second. I just ran out of gas at the end," Costello admits. "I think it was that darn Carolyn Dorin-Ballard who beat me, too!"
"Patty told me after that tournament that it was over, that the competitive fire was gone and she had nothing left inside to compete with," Keller says. "That was it."
Costello has not bowled at all since then. Now she fills her days with gardening, shopping, computer projects, TV, and music when she's not on the job at the local hospital. It's somewhat ironic that a woman whose personal hell once forced her to hold night-long vigils in emergency rooms would choose to make her living in a hospital, but Costello claims the work is fulfilling and makes her happy.
"I always liked meeting and talking to people in the pro-ams and when I was selling cars, and that's what I do now," she explains. "I might get up one day and feel out of it, but then I get to the hospital and see people who are so much worse off than I am. People who are really sick or injured and don't want to be there. I try to make them laugh, get them to feel better about themselves and their lives."
"Patty was always worried about other people. She was always looking for ways to help someone else," Keller says. "She had already won six WASA titles in 1980 when she came to me during one tournament to ask if she should sit the next one out. We had about 100 or so members in those days, and she was afraid they would be scared away from the program if someone else didn't win! And, of course, when she got on the lanes, she always bowled to win. She didn't know any other way to play."
Indeed, Costello admits that all of the pressures that came with the sport were what gave her that focus--and made her a winner. "I put a lot of pressure on myself and made every ball I threw a matter of life or death," Costello admits. "Doing the cocktail-party circuit back in my touring days was not my thing. I'd show up for 10 minutes, sit in a corner, and leave. My job was bowling, and I was focused on doing my job.
"I like to think, now that I'm older, that I might have gotten better reviews from the bowling media, or been Bowler of the Year a couple more times, if I'd been a little more mellow, like I am today. But I don't really have any regrets about my career, and I enjoy what I do now. Some of my patients bowl; they recognize my name and can't wait to tell their friends that Patty Costello wheeled them in for their CAT scans! That's fun for me."
Costello still watches the pro tours on TV--"I try never to miss a show"--and feels that some of today's top names would be great additions to an all-time all-star team. "Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, Aleta Sill, Kim Terrell--they all have great games. Nikki Gianulias, too; she's an excellent bowler who's worked hard at her game. I'd include them with folks like Marion Ladewig, Betty Morris, Dotty--and myself, of course! And Millie [Ignizio] Martorella--now there was a natural. Not a muscle in her arm, but a great gift for the sport."
Bowling fans know, of course, that Costello and Dorin-Ballard's names were inextricably linked during the 2001 season; Dorin-Ballard tied Costello's mark of three consecutive titles (shared with three other women) and her record of seven titles in a single season. Does Costello think Dorin-Ballard's "7" should carry an asterisk, like Roger Maris' "61" in baseball, because Dorin-Ballard had eight more tournaments in which to reach it?
No way, Costello laughs. "Actually, those eight extra events probably tired her out more. Anyone who can win seven tournaments in one year should be celebrated. I was rooting for her all year long."
Then, in a conspiratorial voice, Costello adds, "To be honest, I was hoping she'd tie the record rather than break it. I haven't been in the public eye this much in years. Everyone kept mentioning the two of us in the same breath, and I've really been enjoying it. Now they'll all be talking about me again in 2002, when Carolyn makes another run at it!
"Sometimes I joke about having been so high up, and now I'm pushing people around on gurneys. But that's all it is,just joking. I've always believed you should be the best you can at whatever you decide to do, and it's terrific to brighten the day for people who are going through hard times in their lives.
"Besides, you just know that I'll always be watching the [pro tour] show to see how Carolyn's doing. What more could anyone ask for?"
COPYRIGHT 2002 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group