Bowler overcomes eye disease to set Niles record
Published 9:08 am Friday, January 31, 2014
Diagnosed with a form of macular degeneration as a teenager, DJ Cox doesn’t see the world the same way most people do.
Bright lights irritate his eyes and he has trouble reading anything more than two-feet in front of his face.
Despite his disability, the 29-year-old Niles man is one of the best — if not the best — bowlers in Niles.
On Jan. 23, Cox rolled a city record 873 during the Niles City B league competition at Joey Armadillos, breaking the previous record of 857 held by Mike Vanderbuttes.
“It was tear-jerking — very emotional,” said Cox, a 2002 graduate of Brandywine High School. “I accomplished something I never thought I would do, so it felt really good.”
Cox has Stargardt’s Disease, a form of juvenile macular degeneration that causes progressive vision loss, usually to the point of legal blindness.
“I was born with it basically and didn’t even notice it until fifth grade,” he said. “I will never go fully blind. I will just have 80-year-old eyes the rest of my life.”
In addition to breaking the city record on Jan. 23, Cox also rolled his first 300 — a perfect game — in a sanctioned event.
Cox said he was nervous after throwing the 11th strike, meaning he needed to follow it up with another one to complete the perfect game.
“A friend of mine told me to go up there and take a deep breath and bowl. That’s what I did,” Cox said. “I threw it where I wanted to throw it and it hit the pocket right where it was supposed to hit, but the 10 pin just stood there until another pin knocked it over.”
Cox said he jumped in the air as the people behind him cheered.
“I was surprised I landed on my feet because my legs were so Jell-o,” he said.
The moment was the culmination of a lifelong dream to become the “top dog” in the city’s bowling scene, despite his disability.
“It is a thrill for me because I can bowl like everyone else even with a handicap,” he said. “I don’t try to let it bring me down. It drives me to go farther beyond everyone.It’s a thrill to me.”
Cox said he focuses on an area of the lane when he bowls, instead of a pin or a line. He also has to watch other people’s rolls to gauge the oil on the lane, since he can’t see it with his own eyes.
“If I hit that area, something good is going to happen. If I don’t, it isn’t going to be good,” he said. “When you have a rhythm and you can hit that every time, good things happen.”
Cox started bowling at age 12 with the encouragement of his stepdad, Dale Clark, who passed away in 2002, and his father, Ken.
“He (Clark) was a left-hander, but he taught me how to roll right-handed,” Cox said. “He taught me to have fun and roll the ball. That was his famous thing — just let it roll.”
Cox rolls in the five spot for his team — Premiere Rentals — meaning he is the last one to bowl.
“When it comes down to it, I have to get the strike to win the game,” he said. “The thrill of the competition is just phenomenal when it comes to the pressure.”
His long-term goal is to compete in the United States Bowling Congress national tournament.
“I told my stepfather before he passed away that I want to do every tournament he did,” Cox said. “I’ve done them all except one and that’s going to nationals. It’s been my dream since I turned 18, but it’s expensive.”