NORTH ADAMS — When Jenna Thomas approaches the bowling alley, she’s always carrying a purple eight-pound ball with pink and blue butterflies.
Her style, she says, is to bowl between her legs.
At first, it may seem like the ball is heading for the gutter, said her mother, Maggie Thomas. But Jenna knows what she’s doing and the pins are soon dropping. “She’s got a wicked curve,” Maggie said.
Jenna’s motto? “Do your best and have fun.”
It works for her. Early next month, Jenna will travel to Orlando, Florida for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games. She is the only athlete from Berkshire County to represent Massachusetts at the event, according to a Special Olympics spokesperson. Massachusetts.
It was just a few years ago that Jenna started bowling with a day program at Berkshire Family and Individual Resources. She started competing shortly before the start of the pandemic.
Like the Olympics, the United States Special Olympics happen every four years. To qualify, athletes must medal in their sport at a state-level event and then apply for the US Games. Nearly 200 people applied for four spots on the bowling team, state team bowling coach Paula LeBlanc said.
Jenna’s four-bowling team trains in Auburn, though she often bowls closer to home in Bennington. Earlier this year, Jenna went to training camp with her team to prepare. The team members got closer, LeBlanc said. “We are already talking about meeting once we get back from games.”
The games start on June 5. Massachusetts bowling and bocce teams will fly to Florida together in free seats on a private jet, LeBlanc said.
This isn’t Jenna’s debut at a major Special Olympics event. In 2009, she went as a 15-year-old to the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Sun Valley, Idaho, where she won gold in the 1 km cross-country race with a final time of 9. minutes and 15 seconds.
Jenna, who was born with Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome, a developmental disability, first got involved with Special Olympics two decades ago. A Greylock Elementary School teacher suggested the program, Maggie said.
For the past few years, Jenna, now 28, hasn’t competed in cross-country skiing, instead turning to bowling in the winter.
Jenna can be a wallflower sometimes, Maggie said. But at Special Olympics competitions, “she’s like a social butterfly.”
There, Jenna feels comfortable and enjoys spending time with her friends, she says. “Nobody is picking on me,” she said. In addition, she likes to win medals.