Have bowling ball, will travel…to France, Germany and Australia
When Carpenters Local 322 member D Rojas first picked up a bowling ball at the age of 14, she never suspected the sport would take her around the world. But, that’s exactly what happened.
In August, D and her twin sister, Deb, won gold medals in team bowling at the Gay Games, an international sporting event similar to the Olympics, in Paris. The game went down to the wire for the team and required D, as Team Minnesota Captain, to bowl two strikes to secure the win. This was the fifth games D competed in and the fourth games where she won a gold medal.
D started league bowling as a teenager and, in 1996, took her competitive spirit international when she competed in the games in Amsterdam. D remembers thinking “I’m single. I don’t travel. I’m busy working construction all summer long. I know I’m gonna be laid off. I’m gonna go!”
Since that decision, the games have taken her all over the globe – from Sydney to Cleveland to Cologne, Germany. “It’s how I started traveling,” she said. “No one [I knew] ever wanted to go anywhere, and the Gay Games has been a great way to do that.”
D relishes the chance to compete. “I compete to win and to ‘cling, cling, cling’ as I walk around with my medals on,” she said. (Athletes typically wear medals they’ve won around the games, so the more medals they win, the louder the “clinging” noise they make.)
“It’s nice to go against those 200 bowlers and take it away from them in the end. It’s an ‘I did it’ kind of thing, like when you get your Journeyman’s card. ‘I did it!’ You get a feeling that’s kind of a rush,” she explained.
One of her favorite games were the Sydney games in 2002, following the 2000 Summer Olympics in the same city. Not only did she medal for the first time, she enjoyed exploring the city. With more than a decade’s worth of experience working on bridges, she particularly enjoyed a walk across the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. “I love what I do, working on highway bridges, and it was just like being at work!” she recalled.
The Gay Games started in 1982 with the goal of promoting inclusion and respect of diversity through sport. Thousands of athletes compete at the games every four years. The games are open to all, LBGTQ and allies alike, as long as participants meet the necessary criteria for each sport. For bowling, participants must be in an International Gay Bowling Organization (IGBO) league and maintain an average. There is also a low-key social bowling competition with opposite requirements — competitors cannot bowl in a league or have an average.
The spirit of inclusion is foundational to the games. In Paris, D met a bowler from Kenya who had intended to compete in rugby. The rest of her team backed out, but the athlete was allowed to switch to another sport so she could still compete in the games. She chose bowling and was helped along by her fellow athletes who offered tips and encouragement.
The next Gay Games are in Hong Kong, and D is already saving up and making plans to join the “craziness” again in 2022.