Pittsburgh resident Isadora Silk bowled her way to a bronze medal at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle last week, culminating a long journey that included local and regional tournament victories and a bit of good luck.
The Games, which took place July 1-6, featured athletes from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Every four years, more than 4,000 athletes, 10,000 volunteers and close to 70,000 spectators take part in Special Olympics USA, which showcases the abilities of athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Silk, 41, said she enjoys meeting fellow athletes at the Games, but most of all, reveres the sport itself.
“I just think it’s a really fun sport,” said Silk, who has bowled for nearly her entire adult life.
Jeff Truxell, Pennsylvania’s bowling coach at the Games, said Silk has steadily improved over the past year, reaching an individual single-game average of 146. That success put her in a singles grouping at this year’s Games with top-level bowlers. While she placed fourth out of four bowlers in the division, she would have placed first or second in all but one other division.
Nonetheless, Truxell said he was proud of her efforts.
“She did great,” Truxell said. “She struggled a little bit because it was new lanes, so she found out what she was doing, she made the corrections, and she worked hard.”
He added that she steadily improved throughout the week, posting a score of 153 in the team round on Wednesday.
“It’s a whole different atmosphere, there’s a ton of people there, it’s a crowded environment,” Truxell said. “So it’s not like a week-to-week practice.”
The road to qualifying for July’s Games was a long and arduous one. In January 2017, she won a gold medal at the Allegheny County tournament. Then, she traveled to Erie for the sectional round, again earning a gold. But since the number of gold medal winners exceeded the number of spots available in the state round, a random draw was employed to pick the qualifiers.
Silk was ultimately chosen to compete at the state competition in State College. After earning another gold medal — and winning yet another random draw — she qualified for the national Games in Seattle.
Still, this month’s Games were not the first in which Silk has participated. In 2014, she won three gold medals at the Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey. Her exploits were especially remarkable given that she had recently overcome a rare form of cancer that required a year of chemotherapy and stripped her of both her kidneys.
Silk, who works at Rite Aid in Squirrel Hill, also plays basketball, bocce, golf, soccer and tennis.
Her father, Leonard Silk, praised her work ethic in a phone interview.
“Isadora has certainly blossomed into a wonderful young woman, very independent and strong-willed, knowledgeable, and has just been a wonderful person,” he said.
He added that Special Olympics USA has provided a “platform” for Isadora to feel comfortable participating in sports on an “even playing field.”
“Special Olympics has been a big part of Isadora’s life, and for the kids and adults who participate in Special Olympics, it’s been a wonderful program,” Silk said. “And we’re very lucky to have Special Olympics as part of our lives and as part of Isadora’s life.”
The rest of Pennsylvania’s contingent also fared well at the Games, winning nine gold, 23 silver and 14 bronze medals, in addition to 27 ribbons. The basketball team took home a team gold.
Silk, who has twice been to Israel, was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Western Pennsylvania in 2010 after winning a gold medal at the Special Olympics World Summer Olympics in Shanghai, China in 2007.
She said she plans to continue bowling, and hopes to return to the USA Games in 2022.
“I would like to try for it,” Silk said. “But you never know, because you never know how many spots they are going to give to teams.” PJC
Jonah Berger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.