Fifteen-year-old survives lung surgery to compete in national bowling championship
Emily Pelzer was just 7 years old when she first saw a school flier inviting kids to come bowling. It seemed like it could be fun, so she asked her mom if they could go.
Eight years later, the soon-to-be sophomore at Hillcrest is still bowling — but the sport has become much more than a hobby. It’s a lifeline.
It turns out Pelzer is a natural at the sport. One year after she showed up to the bowling alley for the first time, the 8-year-old won her first national title, representing Utah in the national competition. Now that she’s 15, Pelzer has earned seven national titles in all, and this weekend she is going for another.
To face 4,500 competitors in the national bowling competition is a challenge of its own. But Pelzer has an ace up her sleeve. To her, bowling isn’t just a fun way to pass the time. It’s a metaphor for life. “You can learn a lot from it,” Pelzer says after finishing a long day working at Fat Cats bowling alley.
The last time Pelzer took her title to the countrywide competition, she placed 21 out of 450 competitors — and unbeknownst to her, she was playing with a partially collapsed lung. Pelzer’s mother, Sheri Harding, found her daughter on the floor not long after that game, lethargic and blue from the lack of oxygen reaching her system.
Pelzer, they later discovered, had three dime-sized holes in her right lung, caused by a chain of events that occurred when she had an allergic reaction to something she ate in the sixth grade, which caused her to go into anaphylactic shock. To stop the shock, paramedics gave her a different medicine, which triggered a second allergic reaction. Pelzer aspirated the medicine, which burned her lungs as soon as the medicine made contact. Harding didn’t know her daughter’s lungs were damaged, but at the time, she was just focused on helping Pelzer survive.
“They didn’t really give her much hope to actually live after she had that (first anaphylactic shock),” Harding says. “She was pretty much gone, and they brought her back, and it was really scary.”
Since then, Pelzer has had extreme allergic reactions to other common ingredients, but she was unaware of the extent to which her lung had been damaged four years ago. In the last year, the teenager had reconstructive lung surgery to correct the problem. The recovery process nearly took over her life, but there was one thing that kept Pelzer going: bowling.
“I said, ‘All right, I’m not going to give up just because my lungs are giving up on me,’” Pelzer said. “I’m not going to let that happen because I know my body is more comfortable doing this sport than any other sport.”
So, Pelzer resumed her training, working on her spares and strikes nearly every day, preparing for the national championships that take place this weekend in Ohio. Pelzer already has a full-ride scholarship to Texas A&M because of her bowling skills, but she has her eye on the top prize: a $300,000 scholarship and registration on Team USA for the next summer Olympics.
Canyons District will be cheering this Husky on, but no matter what, she is already a hero to us.