The Modern Day Terminator - Liz Johnson
By Tina Marie Caouette
I still remember my formative years and the countless days within a bowling center as the manager. There were two guarantees; one, we had a full house of league bowlers coming in and two; Liz Johnson would be on the PWBA's live telecast. Of course, that's when there was a PWBA, the WIBC still existed, and centers still cared about league bowling. Back then, Liz was dominating, but today she is a modern day cyborg screaming after each victory; I'll be back!
Now, I could list to strengthen my argument the almost thirty plus medals won in her nine years on Team USA, or her nine PWBA titles, maybe the four majors or the countless other titles, but I shouldn't have to.
A few weeks ago at the Luci Bonneau Mixed Doubles Tournament, I had a chance to ask Liz, fresh off her US Open win, a few questions. Moreover, I got the opportunity first-hand to observe this woman dissect a challenging lane condition like a skilled surgeon. Her laser beamed targeting system worked to precision even leaving small traces of chard lane bed in her wake. To the naive person, at first glance, she doesn't seem intimating, but to someone in the know that couldn’t be further from the truth. Her ordinary appearance is a facade to the truth hidden underneath. I couldn't help thinking beneath that replicated-synthetic-human-skin was nothing more than a cyborg's brain controlling sophisticated and futuristic mechanical parts. I wondered if she knew I was on to her. If so, would I be sliced down for being a measly unskilled human bowler?
Having never bowled, never mind winning a major, I had to ask how it feels to win. This was a loaded two-part question. I wanted to truly know how it feels to win, but secretly was testing for this futuristic being's programmed human responses. Her voiced filled with a soft humbling resonance, "I'm still trying to come off of it. It's been over a week and was such an exciting day." The involuntary gears showed genuine emotions as her face raised to a smile while her eyes dilated with a shared excitement.
This was, from numerous reports, one of the most grueling US Opens in history. I wanted her take on the format. "It was one of the biggest grinding tournaments I've ever had." That's a colossal testimonial from someone considered a modern day machine on the lanes. I wondered, why? "Because it was not bowled in just one center, but three centers." Liz continued, "We had to practice in three centers in one day. You know, go from house to house to house." Now for you local house bowlers multiple your local tournament by a multiple of nine. Good thing the factory had recently updated her with all the necessary hardware from the 6.0 version to the 9.0. My guess is if we peeled back her layers inside it would say Apple and not Windows. Only way to explain her dominating performance. Knowing my thoughts had veered from my opening intentions she finished with this reflection, "Just to bowl for a major, to get another US Open win," she paused as her programming searched for the correct modern day phrases, "It's an unbelievable feeling!"
The USBC, in their warped thinking, thought it would be great to have the winners of the men and women's US Open bowl in a, Battle of the Sexes match. Every now and then, you have to marvel at the wisdom or lack thereof in regards to the hierarchy of the USBC. I asked Wes Malott earlier in the day his thought so I was interested to hear Liz's perspective on this challenge. "Wes and I were coming off winning. All that was just icing on the cake." So there was no pressure on your side? Of course not, she's "the machine" on the lanes. "You know we were just super relaxed." A cyborg relaxed. Is that even achievable? Liz continued, "We just wanted to have fun in the match. I don't think there was any kind of grudge match going on. I was just trying to have a lot of fun at that point." Okay, that was nearly believable. I've bowled many guys here in Vegas and they all say the same thing; nothing stings with an enduring pain more than a woman kicking your ass! So on the surface, Wes confirmed Liz's account, but let's face it ladies, nothing is more victorious than showing the men we can compete at their level! To be fair, Liz did have a match to sit and take in her win while Wes had merely minutes to enjoy before the final match. Liz confirmed my thoughts, "I did have a match to kind of take it in, but at that point it never sunk in. It's still totally 100% trying to sink in right now."
Liz is considered an elder on the lanes in today's youth-dominated environment, which I guess would make me the crypt keeper of the lanes. I wonder, do cyborgs age? I have seen many great youth bowlers, both men and women, in Vegas. I have had the great opportunity to bowl alongside many of them, but wanted Liz's opinion on our future stars. "The girls can really throw the ball well." Can you elaborate? "There's a lot of versatility with them. The girls can play the gutter, they can play inside, and they can pretty much play all over the lanes." How would you elucidate their experiences? "All the preparation they get while and coming out of college. A lot of the girls bowling also bowl on Team USA. “Anyone coming up you care to comment on? “ You have to watch out for the young girls. Danielle McEwan is bowling really, really well right now." How about with the guys? "Bowlers like Marshall Kent, he's bowling awesome!" Liz continued, "You know there is a lot of great talent out there. It's sad that the women don't have more tournaments." She then echoed a statement I hear so much now a days. "It's sad we're not able to have a tour right now!" So true, as well as sad, with the caliber of the talent pool now available for the women. Of course, all wins I'm guessing, would still have to go through Liz.
Speaking of the tour, this woman spent years bowling the PWBA circuit, so I had to ask, is there a likelihood of the Women's Tour being revitalized. "I would love to see it, but it's very doubtful." So you don't think we'll ever see it in our lifetime? "I can't really answer that question. I'd like to be very optimistic." So either this futuristic cyborg is refusing to share what's in store for women's bowling or maybe, just maybe, she's not a cyborg. Now that would just shatter the mystique built up around her. Her final comments on this subject were direct and to the point. "Maybe we can get more than just the Queens and US Open. You know more than just two tournaments in one year. Hopefully it's somewhere down the line." And just like that, an indication into the future is born!
Liz is a veteran member of Team USA, having spent nine years representing the USA in numerous countries. Even after nine years, I wanted her take on the whole experience. "It's a great feeling bowling for your country. It's not about the money." I have to agree with Liz; the thought of wearing the Red, White, and Blue has always been a dream of mine. What's your definition of Team USA? "When you bowl for your country you’re bowling for your family and friends. I mean when you hear that National Anthem and see the American Flag raised it just gives you shivers up your spine.” So it’s a great feeling? “It’s just an awesome feeling. I’m just proud to be able to do what we can do.”
I was hoping to get Liz to sing a few bars of Call Me, Maybe by Carly Rae Jepson, but all she could do was laugh. Those unfamiliar with the inside joke need to watch Team USA at PABCON last year showing off more than their bowling talent.
I have to admit the first time I viewed it having known some of the men and women on Team USA I found it just crazy funny. After helping Liz up off the floor from hysterical laughter, I asked what she thought about doing the video. “I really didn’t know that another sport had done that as well. It was a lot of fun." After a short burst of laughter, she continued reflecting on the experience. “We had a lot of fun with that one. It was just a good time.” I have to say to see the members of Team USA, including Liz Johnson have such a great sense of humor with something so innocent was priceless. Kind of raises the bar for the future teams. It also conflicts with the evidence that Liz is a modern day Cyborg. I mean, can you picture Arnold Schwarzenegger on his motorcycle in his leather outfit and sunglasses singing Call Me, Maybe. Wow, there's an image that won't leave your head anytime soon. By the way, I bet right now that you're singing the song. Aren't you? It's okay, happens to all of us.
What would someone so machine-like in repeating shots give as a tip to us mere human bowlers? Well it shouldn’t surprise you! “A good spare ball!” Anything else? “Having a good focus and mental game is also very important.” I would say this was a common theme at the US Open based on the pattern and scores. Liz shook her head in agreement, “Yes, being able to fill in your frames and make your spares can make the difference.” So instead of practicing throwing strikes on a house shot like I see so many of the youth do now a days one should work predominantly on spare shooting? “Yes! So anytime anyone ever practices, don’t ever hit the reset button. Focus on those spares, those corner pins, the double wood, everything, everything you can.” This should be one quote that is boldly pasted upon every scoring unit during the Junior/Bantam leagues. Just a thought.
It is ironic that I asked Liz about the upcoming 2013 Queens during this interview and she currently sits near the top of the leader board. Did you expect anything less? I know I didn’t! Having checked with the Vegas odd makers and hoping for an inside on the numbers I asked her, what were the chances of winning her second major of the year? She was humble, but there was a defined confidence in her voice, the kind of self-assurance that comes with years atop the leader board. “I’m feeling pretty comfortable right now. I’m coming off the US Open win, bowling the Luci and it was a great week.” You’re going to be in Vegas prior to the Queens. Is that going to be an advantage? “We’re going to be in Vegas two weeks prior to the Queens bowling the World Championship both the men and women. So hopefully I’ll feel really sharp and everything will fall into place.” With the Queens right after the Worlds this year is it still something you’ll be looking forward to even though there's no break? Without hesitation she replied, “I’m defiantly looking forward to it!” She continued, “It’s one of the tournaments I really look forward to. Obviously it’s one of our only two tournaments.” Now how would you rate your chances this year? “So bowling in Las Vegas and Sunset Station I’ve had some success there. So I’m just really looking forward to bowling another women’s tournament and bowling well.” Vegas would call that, “a sure thing”, or as near to that as you’re going to get.
I had to end the conversation right there, but there was no doubt this women is on a mission this year and bowling at a level most of us can only dream of bowling at. Now as to her being a cyborg. Well I will end with this. When asked that question, my camera mysteriously shut off and I swear I saw just a glimpse of HTML code scrolling up across her eyes. At that point, her right eye glowed red as she said, "I'm an obsolete design and judgment day is inevitable." Okay that really didn’t happen, but it’s the only way I can explain her pure domination on the lanes. I’d have to add Liz is such a cool person to be around, not anything you would expect and I wish her luck in this year's Queens Tournament. Thanks for the interview, Liz! To follow Liz Johnson on Facebook click here
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