August in the college town of Gainesville, Florida, is a time when you
find the few and the hard-core still hanging around off-campus, waiting
for another semester to begin and more friends to return. For Bill Miller
and his roommates, Rob Harrison and Ernie Barnett, it was a carefree time,
filled with workouts, cookouts, girls, sports, beer, and take-out.
For Miller, August 23, 1997, began like every other day but ended quite
differently. In the early morning, he got out of bed to go to the bathroom.
He tripped on an ab-roller and fell awkwardly. When his roommates found
him a few hours later, he was lying face-down with his head resting on
a wooden clothing and shoe rack. They picked him up and put him back in
bed. But when Miller woke up around 8 a.m., he couldn’t get up.
Hoping it was another “stinger” like he had experienced when
playing football, he thought it would pass after a little more sleep.
It didn’t, and a few hours later, he asked his friends to call 9-1-1.
“The next thing I knew, a half-dozen emergency workers were immobilizing
my neck, strapping me to a backboard, and trying to maneuver my six-foot
frame down two flights of townhouse stairs. It wasn’t fun,”
said Miller. He was initially diagnosed with level C-5, C-6, incomplete
quadriplegia. Two neurosurgeries later, he was diagnosed with C-1, C-2
complete quadriplegia and was on a ventilator.
Injured at the age of 20, Miller reflects the age and sex of the majority
of the nearly 243,000 people in the U.S. who have become quadriplegic
due to spinal cord injury. Most, however, become disabled after automobile
accidents—an astounding 40.9 percent, according to the National
Spinal Cord Injury Database. Of the 11,000 new cases each year, 53 percent
are between the ages of 16 and 30, and the most frequent age at the time
of injury is 19. As modern medicine improves, so does the survival rate,
but unfortunately the quality of life for some is but a shadow of their
pre-injury existence, and such tragedy is becoming more common.
Miller’s response to it, however, was anything but common. He was
not about to let his spinal cord injury stop him. “Bill always rose
above adversity,” said step mom Donna Miller. “On a break
from college, he had four wisdom teeth pulled, then painted the house
the next day. Bill works hard and has always strived for perfection in
And when Donna Miller, who works as a judge, mentioned her stepson’s
situation to her volunteer bailiff, Claude Giguere, a former engineer
at General Motors, he decided to take action and help Miller. At the urging
of the judge, who suggested a bowling device could be built, Giguere said,
“I can make him bowl.”
Canadian-born Giguere had previously engineered and implemented the first
completely computerized storage and retrieval warehouse and the first
automatic guided vehicle system while at General Motors. These earlier
successes prepared him for the lengthy process of trial and error in building
a bowling device for Miller. Fortunately, Miller was a willing guinea
pig and ready to rise to the challenge. “I had to work with the
garage door closed on the first wooden prototype, because there were restrictions
about working on a commercial enterprise in my retirement community. But
we didn’t let that stop us,” said Giguere.
By early 2002, Miller was bowling an impressive 130- plus using the wooden
prototype. Going into bowling alleys late at night to avoid crowds and
intellectual property theft, Miller and Giguere tweaked, refit, retooled,
and continually refined the first product, then known as the Miller Bowler.
Sharing the Vision
In their excitement, they shared their journey with long-time friend and
retired Brandon, Florida, businessman Vincent Tifer. Tifer, who has secondary
progressive multiple sclerosis, saw the bowler as much more than just
a recreational tool for Miller. He saw it as a way to bring hope and enjoyment
to millions of people. Tifer volunteered his time and began an equally
arduous journey to make the bowler a viable product and a sanctioned sport.
“The first time I saw the bowler,” said Tifer, “I knew
that this could be exactly the thing for bringing quadriplegics like Bill
out of the shadows.”
By June 2002, MGT Corporation was formed, reflecting the Miller-Giguere-Tifer
triad that had made the bowler possible. After an exhaustive trademark
search, the name IKAN was chosen, which is taken from the Greek work “ikano,”
The word about a new recreational opportunity quickly spread among the
Central Florida quadriplegic community. Michelle Carston, Ben Lux, Jennifer
Harman, Rhonda Reese, and Wendell Howell Jr. all joined the team. When
Jeff Parker, an individual with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, joined their
team, the Quad Squad had its original seven. They now bowl on the second
Saturday of each month at the Villages in Lady Lake, Florida, and have
drawn much attention while on the lanes.
This attention has gained them the commitment of the Rotary Club of the
Villages, who made the IKAN Bowler their personal Centennial Project.
They now pair young Early Act elementary school-aged Rotarians and Interact
Club members, their teenage counterparts, with the Quad Squad for bowl-a-thons
to raise money for bowler donations to needy organizations. The last bowl-a-thon
raised enough funds to donate a bowler to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta,
Georgia, a renowned catastrophic care hospital. Priced at $1,499, the
bowler is out of the reach of many whose injuries and illnesses have affected
them financially as well as physically. Groups like The Rotary Club of
the Villages are working to make the bowler available to as many in need
as they can.
“It is so heartening to see the acceptance and compassion on the
faces of our young bowlers going against the Quad Squad. The lessons of
good citizenship and empathy learned by the children who participate in
our bowl-a-thons are priceless,” says Cliff Moore, president of
The Rotary Club of the Villages.
The Quad Squad has also proven to be an important social circle for the
bowlers. They all live within a 40-mile radius of each other in Central
Florida but keep in contact via phone and voice-activated computer when
not meeting on the lanes. Often they bring family and friends to join
in on the fun. “It’s been hard finding something my whole
family can share with me. Now, we can enjoy bowling together. It’s
a dream come true,” says Harman.
Some bowlers travel a long distance to take part in the IKAN experience.
Take, for instance, Tina Hughes. A league bowler for many years, her world
changed on July 21, 2002, while on her way to her bookkeeping job at Home
Depot in Gainesville, Florida. A small puddle of water and a light rain
made her SUV spin out of control.
Three weeks later, Hughes awoke to learn she had broken her sixth and
seventh vertebrate and severed her spine, rendering her completely paralyzed
from the mid-chest down. Now a resident of the Oakhurst Therapy Center
in Ocala, Florida, Hughes can’t stop talking about her IKAN bowling
experience. “I have a twin sister I used to bowl with, and now we
can do that again. Besides fishing, IKAN bowling is the most physical
thing I’ve done since my accident.” Equally important, Hughes
had never met another quadriplegic until the day she bowled. She is now
in telephone contact with the other members of the Quad Squad and is working
to raise enough money to buy a bowler and a voice-activated computer of
The Future of the IKAN
The IKAN bowler, which began as a rather clunky looking ramp, was re-engineered
by Tom Muckle and his team at Mill Brook, LLC in Old Lyme, Connecticut,
and became the first and only fully barrier-free wheelchair bowling system
in the world. Now it is sleek and durably built of PVC, stainless steel,
and aluminum. Once the bowler was ready to take to market, MGT Corp.’s
goals became even bigger. “We envision a day when the IKAN Bowler
Bowling League will be a Paralympic event,” said Tifer.
Jerry McCole, executive director of the National Disability Sports Association,
feels such a goal is highly possible. The NDSA (formerly the U.S. Cerebral
Palsy Athletic Association), one of the largest sporting associations
for athletes with disabilities, is the current National Coordinating Body
for competitive sports for individuals with cerebral palsy, those with
brain injuries, and stroke survivors. It provides sporting opportunities
for over 5,000 athletes with disabilities and also formulates the rules,
implements policies and procedures, conducts national championships in
10 sports, and disseminates safety and sports medicine information. As
a member of the United States Olympic Committee, which selects the athletes
who represent the United States in international competition, the NDSA
hosts major competitions such as the National Sports Festival and World
CP-ISRA World Championships. The organization now anticipates being able
to use the IKAN bowler to provide consistency in apparatus during the
bowling portion of its events. “Right now we have people who use
stationary ramps as well as wooden and metal ramps they’ve built
themselves,” explains McCole. “It’s hard to know whether
one bowler has an advantage over the other when all are using different
These types of assistive devices will become more and more important as
the population ages, according to Mark Ravenscraft, marketing coordinator
of the Rehabilitation, Engineering and Technology Program for the University
of South Florida’s Department of Engineering. “We look at
hundreds of devices each year, including those that aid mobility and communication
devices, but the IKAN bowler is unique. Plus, as our population ages and
as we engage in conflicts around the world, the need for similar assistive
technologies will explode over the coming decade.”
The IKAN Bowler was presented to the American Bowling Congress, and the
process of making it a sanctioned sport became reality on March 19, 2004.
On that date, the American Bowling Congress amended Rule 4C, which previously
would not allow for any device that provided any type of force. The Women’s
International Bowling Congress voted in May to approve the same rule change.
The congresses ruled that because the IKAN Bowler was attached to the
wheelchair, it was the wheelchair user who was imparting the force. This
change was important because it allowed bowlers with severe disabilities
to compete on equal ground with able-bodied bowlers; It marked the first
time in history that a quadriplegic had a sport with rules of play that
were no different than any other athlete.
“There have been a number of ramps but none that attached directly
to a wheelchair,” said Al Vandenack, team leader of Specifications
and Certifications for the American Bowling Congress and the WIBC. “That
makes the force and momentum of the ball no different than if it left
someone’s hand. We think it’s going to open sanctioned league
play to those who couldn’t participate before.”
Bowling and the Olympics
Bowling first exhibitioned at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, but the sport
was turned down for inclusion on the official program of the 2008 Games
in Beijing. Even with that minor setback, The International Bowling Federation
and Brunswick have been working diligently to promote bowling to the International
Olympic Committee. At this time, bowling is not on the Paralympic program
either. Currently, tennis is the only sport that will include a special
class for quadriplegics in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Sherrie Phillips, 1996 Olympic Judo Team Alternate, three-time U.S. World
Team member, a Silver Medalist at the 1995 Pan American Games, and an
administrator with the United States Olympic committee in international
relations, feels that with the proper development of IKAN bowling as a
sport, it can capture the attention of the Olympic committee. “The
IKAN bowler offers those who have faced great adversity in their lives
the opportunity to experience not only the triumph of the spirit than
an individual feels when participating in sports but also the opportunity
to build tremendous and long-lasting bonds with other human beings through
participation in a common activity. This itself is a wonderful thing,”
said Phillips. Phillips, also the owner of Sports Consult, a sports marketing
and consulting firm that is known for its vast knowledge of the Olympic
movement, hopes to use her expertise in advancing the IKAN league beyond
just another international sport. “We hope to elevate it (IKAN bowling)
to Paralympic status and beyond,” said Phillips.
The Best Is Yet to Come
Today, Miller is working toward finishing his bachelor’s degree
via University of Florida online courses and speaks to a diverse array
of groups on the challenges of living with quadriplegia. Miller feels
by Jennifer Frazier
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