Following in his father's footsteps, Tom Smallwood made his living as a Michigan autoworker, assembling seatbelts for General Motors. It wasn't glamorous. It was however, a steady income, something his wife and 1-year old daughter were grateful for.
Then in 2008, a few days before Christmas, the axe fell. Tom had never been laid off before. Had never experienced that feeling of emptiness. Of having to ask, "what now?"
At some point that evening, while sitting down with his wife, discussing finances and a future clouded in doubt, Tom recognized a leather bag partially hidden behind several rows of shoes on the closet floor. It was a ball bag. And inside, his bowling ball.
For many of us, the sport of bowling is an enjoyable way of spending an evening with the family. Knocking down some pins, sharing a few laughs, maybe get lucky and throw a strike or two. As a youngster growing up in central Michigan, bowling stood for something far more important to Tom Smallwood.
Having discovered his talent for the sport at an early age, Tom made a name for himself locally, winning several tournaments and a decent collection of trophies to show for it. He'd always dreamed of going pro. However, as time passes and needs arise, he eventually made the decision that so many of us find ourselves facing at some point in our lives. Giving up the dream for what he called, "the guaranteed-income."
But what happens when the guarantee runs out?
Tom applied for several jobs around the area. Never received a response. As days grew to weeks, and weeks to months, frustration mounted.
During his free time, in between those circled help wanted ads and the constant strain of a necktie and a practiced smile, Tom found himself at the bowling alley, rekindling better times. And with each failed attempt on the job market, his bowling average improved.
It was during one of those overcast, somber afternoons, when Tom Smallwood recalled that dream of his. The one from his childhood.
A goal was set. If he wasn't employed by May, he'd try out for the Pro Bowlers Association.
May arrived. His telephone remained silent.
Tom entered the PBA's tour trials. A tournament of sorts, where upwards of 120 hopefuls bowled nine games a day for five days, with the PBA accepting only the top scores for their league tour. Nine games a day. To the many contenders, the tournament became more of a gauntlet. A test of wills.
And when it ended, Tom found himself in third place. He'd qualified for a spot on the tour and a minimum paycheck at each event for a year.
The laid off autoworker had fulfilled his dream.
...but the dream didn't end there.
Witchita, Kansas. The PBA World Championship.
From the first frame, Tom knew he was on a roll. Knocking off one opponent after another, he found himself standing alone in the finals against the reining player of the year.
It was on this day, on National T.V., when a little known, ex-auto worker, needing a strike and 7 pins to win, threw back to back strikes, and won the PBA Championship and a $50,000 check.
Like a modern day fairy tale.
About a month later, Tom's telephone finally rang. General Motors was offering him his job back.
He said, "Thanks...but no thanks."