NEWS
10/27/2011 09:23 EDT | Updated 12/27/2011 05:12 EST

Canada's Park juggles baby duties with bowling, wins silver at Pan Am Games

GUADALAJARA, Mexico - There's little downtime for Canadian bowler Jennifer Park at the Pan American Games.

Instead of resting between rounds in the women's singles competition, Park walked over to the bleachers at the Tapatio Bowling Alley to feed her three-month-old daughter Katelyn.

After that it was back to the alley, where Park made it to the final before settling for silver after a 2-0 loss to American Liz Johnson. Caroline Lagrange of Montreal took the bronze after falling to the 37-year-old Johnson in the semifinals.

"It does feel great having come off the pregnancy, I felt like I had to prove some things," said Park, a resident of Nanaimo, B.C. "Prove that I can be here still and that I'm not too old, because I'm starting to age.

"This feels good, it really does."

Park's sister also made the trip to Mexico to help with the baby. They watched the 15-year national team veteran come back for a 2-1 win over Lagrange before falling to the steady American.

Park fell 232-196 in the opener of the best-of-three final. She had a blister pop on her left thumb midway through the second game, a 235-190 loss.

"I didn't feel like I was lined up well enough to score," Park said. "I know it was close and I wish it would have been closer. But it happens, that's OK. I'm still happy with a silver."

She called the Pan Ams a "huge" tournament for bowlers as the sport is not played at the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games. It also offers a rare opportunity to be on the same stage with more popular sports.

Plus, she added, it's nice to actually be considered an athlete.

"Bowling is sometimes thought of as a beer league kind of thing," Park said. "We're trying really hard to prove that it's not. Going out to bowl 10 hours a day, competing every day on a weekend for 10 hours a day can be exhausting physically and mentally."

Most competitions have long qualifying rounds and many bowlers play singles and team events.

"People don't realize how physical bowling is," Lagrange said. "They're like, 'Ah, you just throw the ball down the lane, it's easy.' It's not, I'm sorry.

"You still have to be in shape and you still have to go through a 10-hour day."

The interior of the Tapatio facility looked just like a regular bowling centre back in Canada. A snack bar had greasy food on the menu at one end and there was a pro shop and billiards area at the other.

A trophy case displayed local youth league trophies and framed pictures of local bowlers adorned the walls. There was even a vintage gumball machine by the shoe rental area.

About 200 spectators were on hand and the competition was not as intense as other events here at the Pan Ams. Few sports will see the finalists high-five each other after making a nice shot.

"We're very friendly on and off the lanes," Park said. "That's just the way bowling is."

Park is staying at a city hotel during the Games. Her day starts a few hours earlier than other athletes in the village because she's still nursing her baby.

Her two other young children are back home in Nanaimo with her husband.

"It's been tough but I knew that it was going to be going in," Park said. "I've been mentally preparing for this so I think that helped quite a bit."

Park won a bronze at the 1999 Pan Ams in Winnipeg and also competed at the 2003 Games in the Dominican Republic. She said it's been a challenge getting back to top form after taking time away from the sport earlier this year.

It makes her accomplishment on the lanes all the more special.

"This is a big one," Park said. "It's probably one of the bigger ones just because of the event and the fact that I've been around for a long time. I've wanted to be able to compete again. Just having three children in the last five years, my priorities and my focus haven't been here.

"So this feels really good to be able to know that I can come back and still compete."