Late Bloomer

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By Mike Forster

Most of us realize our athletic primes during our high school days. Others blossom during their college years or during their twenties. A few of us hit a peak in our thirties.

Bill Kesler waited until he was in his nineties before becoming the big man on campus.

Kesler, a 98 year old resident of the National Elks Home, astounded his peers last week when he rolled five straight strikes in competition at the AMF Lynchburg Lanes.

The ?Five Bagger? helped push Kesler to a one-game score of 184.

When Kesler was 91 years old, he nailed a hole-in-one on the #8 hole at the Elks home course.

The nonagenarian accomplished both feats in spite of the fact that he has macular degeneration, which has resulted in a loss of his central vision. He does have peripheral vision.

?I can see the alleys on both sides,? said Kesler. ?But not the one I?m bowling on.?

?We line him up and point him in the direction he needs to throw it,? said Sharon Jones, activities director at the Elks Home.

?He cleaned my clock,? said good friend John Keefe, who was bowling with Kesler at the time.

Kesler was not an athlete when he attended Thomas Jefferson High School in Roanoke, having to work at his father?s clothing store after school and on the weekends. ?Plus, I weighed about 115 pounds,? chuckled Kesler. ?My athletic endeavors were all in my mind.?

Kesler recalled the first time he bowled in an industrial league, in New York City. Up until that time, he had only bowled duckpins. When he saw the ten-pin set up, with the larger ball, he was surprised. ?Dear Lord, please let this ball stay in the alley,? was his silent prayer

He also remembered that, before World War II, the lanes were serviced by pin boys, who would manually re-set the pins for each frame. After the automatic pin-setter came into being, bowling became much more popular, as the sport became cheaper and quicker.

Kesler laughed when he stated, ?I was a miserable bowler.? His score of 184 last week stands as the highest of his career.

A resident of the Elks Home since 1999, Kesler hit his hole-in-one when playing with Sheridan Besosa, Don Kennedy and Russ Campbell.

?I didn?t see the ball go in,? he said of his seven-iron shot. ?The guys started hollering, ?It went in the hole, it went in the hole!?,? said Kesler.

At this point in his life, the man who was born when William Howard Taft was president has no plans to take up additional sports. However, he does take advantage of the exercise room at the Elks? Home.

Not much seems to slow down Kesler. ?When I turned 90, I sold my car, and that cut down on my social life,? he rued, but added, ?I?m just fortunate to be 98 years old and feel as well as I do.?

When asked if he were willing to provide tips to aspiring golfers or bowlers, Kesler laughed when he answered, ?I can only coach them on how to be lucky.?