September 27, 2013

Bowling turns disabilities into abilities on soccer pitch

By Denis House
Sports Editor

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — At first glance South Laurel’s Jasper Bowling looks like any other soccer player running up and down the pitch.

He hustles to win balls, he gets back on defense, and just gives it his all each and every game.

Look closer and you will see that Bowling isn’t like every other player. He is missing half of his right arm. That’s obvious. What isn’t obvious is his left leg has no ankle and four toes on his foot. He has only one bone where he is supposed to have two. The one which makes up the ankle is missing.

“No one knows how he’s able to do what he does,” said his father, Ed Bowling. “But he never complains.”

“I love being with my friends and the commitment that I have for them,” Jasper Bowling said. “It’s for my coaches that I go up to the field everyday and for my friends on the team that I give it my all.”

Bowling adopted Jasper in 2002 when he was four years old and living in an orphanage in Guilin, China. “I remember little to nothing about China or the orphanage that I was from originally,” Jasper said. Adoption holds a special place in Bowling’s heart.

“My sister and I were both adopted,” Bowling said. “I had a desire to pay that back.” After his divorce, he decided to do just that.

“I got tired of focusing on myself,” Bowling said. “It was time to stop worrying about me time and give back.”

So even though he was single he decided to adopt, and that’s where Jasper came into the picture. Then five years later, Bowling adopted Jace, who also hailed from China but is not Jasper’s biological brother.

On the soccer pitch, Bowling has gained praise from his coach, Amber Hensley.

“Seriously the hardest working kid I’ve ever coached,” Hensley said. “He is his toughest critic. He takes every drill and practice like it’s his last. He gets playing time because he hustles no matter what. His hustle and aggressiveness allows for him to win the ball and possess the ball. He makes no excuses. Jasper has only played soccer for three years where many of his teammates have played the majority of their lives. One of the most coachable kids I’ve been around.”

His teammates agree.

“He gives 110 percent, not only in soccer but also in school,” Clay Weaver said. “He got his first goal earlier this year and everyone was so excited. He lives and breathes the game. He’s very flexible. When we are stretching he can put his head on his toe. He gives it his all.” In fact, he has been nicknamed “The One-Armed Assassin” by his teammates.

Bowling said he was thrilled when he scored in a 5-2 win over Whitley County.

“I felt great and I felt like nothing could hold me back to get another one,” he said.

“Nothing slows him or his brother down,” Bowling said. Jace is also special needs, missing his left leg. “My job is to give them everything they need. Nobody treats them differently and nobody feels sorry for them.”

And Jasper Bowling wouldn’t want them to. He doesn’t like to focus on his disability. Instead, he wants people to notice him for his ability. He was determined not to let his disabilities keep him from playing a sport that he loves.

“I don’t want to be the average person that sits and watches,” he said. “I want to be the one out there doing and hopefully will inspire others to do the same.”

Bowling said he has never had an opponent say anything negative to him when on the pitch, and if they did, he would just respond “well, I went shark fishing and I” “That’s actually what not happened but it sure gets a conversation started,” he said.

Still there have been times when he wanted to quit, but he said the encouragement of his friends helped him to keep going.

“I would like to thank Isaiah Wright for always being there for me when I wanted to quit and helped me through my Christian faith throughout every season,” he said. “I would like to also thank Clay Weaver for always having my back and always being a great friend and being there for me when I need him most. A big thanks to my coach, Amber Hensley, for making me a better player than I was when I first started. Also thanks to my cousin, Kayne Hensley, for being a great supporter, great cousin, great player and giving his best at everything he does.”

The Cardinals are struggling through a tough season right now, but that hasn’t discouraged Bowling.

“We are a better team than what the record shows,” he said. “We just got to all hang in there and support each other and keep on going. Never get discouraged, no matter what.”

His father said he talked to the doctors about Jasper playing soccer, and they told him not to worry.

“I talked to his surgeons and they said if it doesn’t hurt it’s not going to hurt anything,” Bowling said.

The younger Bowling said he would tell others with disabilities to never stop trying.

“Keep going even if the going gets tough,” he said. “Hold your head up high when those around you try to put it down.”