COVID nurse is thrilled to be back on pro bowling circuit

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Critical care nurse and professional bowler Erin McCarthy competes at the 2021 PWBA Kickoff Classic Series in Arlington, Texas, Jan. 26, 2021. “You have to have a calm demeanor and think clearly,” McCarthy says. “I think that’s probably why I love doing them both equally as much.” (USBC via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Nursing and professional bowling aren’t usually found on the same resume. In fact, Erin McCarthy is just one of a few to claim that territory.

The 31-year-old McCarthy has weathered the pandemic as a critical care nurse in Omaha, and she did it during the darkest days of the coronavirus crisis without her usual release valve — competing on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association circuit.

Now back on the tour, McCarthy is splitting her time between hospital work and traveling to meets to regain her momentum on the lanes.

“Bowling has always been a part of my life, but I didn’t realize how much it meant to me until it was taken away,” she told The Associated Press in a recent Zoom interview from the home she shares with her fiancee, two soon-to-be stepkids and a couple of dogs.

“Bowling is definitely my outlet.”

McCarthy began bowling at age 2, when her parents would let her roll balls two-handed. She stuck with it through youth league play and attended college on a bowling scholarship while also completing nursing school. She’s been doing both professionally since the PWBA was revived in 2015.

“At first I was kind of quiet about it, but eventually the word got out that oh, I bowl, and people realized that I don’t just do it for fun,” she said of her colleagues at Methodist Hospital. “Now they follow my events. The hospital has been very supportive, so I feel fortunate I’m able to do both things.”

And she’s been doing both things with a trademark calm.

The unassuming McCarthy saw her share of tragedy when the pandemic stormed Omaha last year. In the early weeks, while other pro bowlers were setting up mattresses at home to fashion practice lanes, McCarthy decided not to train at all, focusing on her critically ill COVID-19 patients and helping her young stepchildren cope with remote learning.

“I saw more death in 2020 than I’ve seen in my 7 1/2 years of nursing. It was a pretty difficult time, but I think it allowed me to grow and learn more as a nurse and as a person,” she said. “COVID kind of wore me out physically and mentally.”

McCarthy sees similarities between bowling and nursing.

“Being in a critical care unit, you have to have a very mellow, laid-back personality. It’s almost like chaos calms me, as weird as that sounds. And bowling is kind of the same way. You know, you have to have a calm demeanor and think clearly. You can’t rush through things. I think that’s probably why I love doing them both equally as much.”

Before the pandemic, McCarthy spent 30 to 40 weekends each year in tournament play, with longer bowling trips thrown in. She’s been back in the groove since January, nursing during the week.

Her hospital, along with another one where she also works, remains firmly in her bowling cheer squad — and her nursing one, too.

“She’s an excellent advocate for our patients and is a true team player,” said Tim Hoarty, the service leader of the unit where McCarthy works at Methodist Hospital. “She’s also incredibly humble. Her bowling prowess doesn’t surprise me nor anyone who works with her, but she doesn’t advertise her successes.”

Those successes, since resuming competitive play, include some top five finishes, a remarkable feat considering the practice and training time she lost.

“I wasn’t quite as good as some of the other women who devote all of their time to bowling, so I feel like I’ve had to really work to prove myself,” McCarthy said. “I’m just happy to have it back.”

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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Associated Press video journalist Emily Leshner contributed to this story.

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