RICHMOND, Va. - Though the city and venue haven't changed for Missy Parkin's last two trips to the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour Championship, the difference between visits for the nine-time Team USA member was life-changing.
The Laguna Hills, California, resident returned to the season-ending event at the Old Dominion Building inside Richmond Raceway, and, this week, she was able to carry her son, Drew Jr., in her arms into the specially constructed venue for the first time. The event also was held inside the Old Dominion Building in 2017.
Parkin carried him into the PWBA Tour Championships in a different way last September, competing against the top players on the PWBA Tour while more than six months pregnant.
She won her opening match in the best-of-five format in 2017, before falling to Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, in the second round. Parkin finished in a tie for seventh place.
Parkin has advanced to the Tour Championship three times since the return of the PWBA Tour in 2015.
"It was awesome to make it to the Tour Championship last year being pregnant for the entire season," Parkin said. "We had about a month off after the U.S. Women's Open, and I definitely got bigger in that month. I was about six-and-a-half months pregnant by the time we came here, and it was starting to get uncomfortable to bowl at that point. But, I knew with the format there wouldn't be a ton of games, and I would be able to get through it."
The Tour Championship marked the final event for Parkin before giving birth to Drew Jr. in late December. While some challenges in the delivery process slowed down her recovery time and preparation for the 2018 season, it also gave Parkin and her husband, Drew Sr., the opportunity to enjoy their growing family.
By the time the first event of the 2018 season headed to Las Vegas in late April, the 36-year-old right-hander felt she was getting close to mid-season form, and she found early success after advancing to the championship round of the PWBA Fountain Valley Open in May, finishing in fourth place.
"I really wasn't allowed to pick up a ball or do anything physically until the middle of February, so I didn't have that much time to get ready for the start of the season," said Parkin, who earned her spot at the 2018 Tour Championship by finishing 14th on this season's points list. "I took it really easy when I started up again, just bowling one game for the first couple of times out. By the time I got to Vegas, I felt like I was around 75 percent, and every event since, I've felt like I've been getting better and better."
Parkin competed in every event this season on her way back to Richmond, and Drew Jr. also had a perfect attendance record in his rookie year, making it to all 14 events. Parkin credits her support system in helping make it possible.
"DJ has been to every single stop, and it means the world to me," said Parkin, the 2011 United States Bowling Congress Queens champion. "I don't think I could do it if I could only see him a couple of days each week, so I'm very grateful that my family has helped allow me to bring him on the road with me. I have such great support from my parents, my in-laws and Drew."
While competing, Parkin knows she can focus on her next shot while Drew Jr. is in good hands. Whether she strikes or splits, she also knows her biggest fan is excited to see her regardless the outcome on the lanes.
"It's long days, and he's usually in the bowling center the whole time," Parkin said. "It's awesome to know that when I turn around after a shot I'm able to see him."
In her opening match this year at the Tour Championship, Parkin will go up against Bryanna Coté‚ of Red Rock, Arizona. They'll hit the lanes Monday at 6 p.m. Eastern.
"I'm really happy to be back this year," Parkin said. "Last year, they were hooking a lot and I wasn't physically able to throw it as hard as I like to, which is my A game. They're hooking a lot this year, too, and I feel like I'm throwing it really well. It's nice to be able to come out here and know I'm back to 100 percent and can give it my all."
The season never stops
The 2018 PWBA Tour season is wrapping up with the Tour Championship this week, but it doesn't mean the schedule is slowing down.
Nearly half of the competitors in the field this week will head from Richmond to the Dominican Republic to represent their countries at the Pan American Bowling Confederation (PABCON) Women's Championships from Sept. 24-29.
Parkin, Liz Kuhlkin, Shannon O'Keefe, Shannon Pluhowsky and Jordan Richard will bowl for Team USA at Brunswick Sebelen Bowling Center in Santo Domingo, while Rocio Restrepo and Maria Jose Rodriguez will represent Colombia.
A pair of opening-round matches at the Tour Championship will feature PABCON teammates squaring off at the Old Dominion Building. Pluhowsky and Richard will face off Monday at 6 p.m. Eastern, and Restrepo and Rodriguez will go head to head in the best-of-five format Tuesday at 9 a.m. Eastern.
Both matches, and every round of competition leading up to Wednesday's live finals at 8 p.m. Eastern, will be broadcast live on BOWL.com's BowlTV.
Rodriguez and Restrepo have grown accustomed to the quick turnarounds from one event to the next this season. They've also been able to manage the change from competing as individuals to being part of a team environment.
"I've been doing this the whole year," said Rodriguez, the 2014 USBC Queens champion. "I went from Queens to the South American Games, and from the Central American (and Caribbean Sports) Games to the St. Petersburg stop, so I've gotten used to it. It's different bowling as an individual compared to bowling for a team, but I feel I can make the switch pretty easily."
Having the culmination of an entire season lead to a first-round match with her teammate wasn't what Rodriguez hoped for as she made her third consecutive trip to the Tour Championship, but she plans to make the best of it.
"We've come such a long way to get here, and the last person you want to bowl against is your teammate," Rodriguez said. "It's kind of funny it worked out that way, but it's something you've just got to go with."
New look in Old Dominion Building
Although the Tour Championship returns to the Old Dominion Building for the second consecutive year, the look of the playing field caught the attention of players and fans at Richmond Raceway.
The four-lane setup, which was specially installed by QubicaAMF, features QubicaAMF Glacier White lane panels and approaches.
QubicaAMF is the official supplier of bowling equipment for the 2018 PWBA Tour Championship.