When you think of tough athletes, football and hockey players quickly come to mind.
But a bowler?
Someone who learned that with determination and the love of family, friends, teammates — and one anonymous bone marrow donor living 1,500 miles away — striking down a rare and deadly blood disease is indeed possible?
Cameron Hurwitz stands 4-foot-11 and weighs 84 pounds with Skittles in his pockets.
But the Brighton (Rochester, N.Y.) High School freshman is a big man on the lanes, leading the Barons this season with a 216.5 average, making the coveted six-man state tournament composite team, where he led Section V to a third-place finish, and being named All-Greater Rochester for the second time in three seasons.
He has rolled three 300-games (two sanctioned) and just recently recorded a personal-best 799 series in competition.
There was a time when opponents sized up Hurwitz and took him for an easy mark. No more.
“He’s pretty well-known now,’’ Brighton coach Jason Wasserman said. “What they can’t believe is that he’s only in ninth grade and doing as well as he is. He reads lane conditions as good as anyone out there. He’s able to make adjustments on the fly, he knows what equipment to use at what time and then he’s just so consistent with his shots.’’
That’s what happens when you bowl nearly every day from the time you’re eye level to a ball rack. When you have parents, Caryn and Scott Hurwitz, who nurture your gifts with unconditional love. When a big brother, Reese, a senior on the Brighton team with a fine 210 average of his own and is headed to Purdue to bowl, is always there to cheer the strikes and help you handle the splits and open frames of life.
Cameron, 14, a hard-throwing right-hander, throws a ball that takes a sharp, last-second right-to-left hook into the pocket that makes pins explode like fireworks on the Fourth of July.
He has had many mentors but in large part he is a self-taught prodigy.
As a big PBA fan who would like to compete on tour someday, he has long watched bowling on television and the internet. He reads bowling magazines, studies the history of the game and can recite the career statistics of PBA stars. His favorite player is a kindred spirit, 5-foot-5 Norm Duke, a family friend whose autograph he wears proudly on his green Storm bowling shirt.
For good measure, Cameron drills his own balls, customizes his own bowling shoes (blue and fluorescent green on this day), and has ideas for other bowling products that his dad, who owns a motorcycle parts manufacturing business, helps bring to life. Some have already caught the attention of people in the industry.
“I think it came from watching the pros on television all the time and picking it up,’’ Cameron said when asked where his style and passion for all things bowling comes from. “I love all the physics behind bowling and just the fact you have to use your mind to be able to perform. Anybody of any size can be great at bowling as long as you know the right way to do it and as long as you know what each piece of equipment does for a particular oil pattern.’’
Boy behind the mask
Understanding bowling science helped Cameron enjoy his best season so far, but it was medical science that got him back on the lanes.
A little more than two years ago while in the seventh grade, Cameron was getting ready to leave for the Section V tournament when his mother spotted black-and-blue marks on his arms and legs. A phone call to their family doctor led to blood work, which led to instructions to take her son to the emergency room immediately.
“He had extremely low platelets, which clot your blood, and they told us to pack a bag, you’ll be there for many days,’’ Caryn Hurwitz said.
It was six days to be exact, during which Cameron was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia, a rare and serious blood disorder in which the body stops making enough new white and red cells and platelets.
“His bone marrow had just shut down and with so few platelets he was at great risk, and with no immunity he couldn’t be around people,’’ Caryn Hurwitz said.
While undergoing treatments at Golisano Children’s Hospital, Cameron was unable to attend school and was quarantined at home for over five months. When given the OK by doctors, his lone escape was making trips to area bowling centers where generous owners allowed him to practice during off-hours to the public.
Encouraged by upticks in his white cell counts, Cameron’s caregivers couldn’t say no when he begged to compete in the prestigious United States Bowling Congress Junior Gold national championships in the Chicago area in July 2015. While wearing an antiviral mask and in between receiving seven-hour blood transfusions at a Chicago hospital, Cameron made the televised final, placing second in the U12 division.
“The boy behind the mask’’ became a media celebrity and inspiration in the bowling community. He made the cover of Bowler’s Journal and PBA stars became his fans. Hall of Famer Pete Weber posted a good luck video message on Facebook to Cameron.
“He’d bowl without hardly any oxygen (in his bloodstream),’’ Caryn Hurwitz said. “I don’t think people really understood how hard it was for him, but as long as he could go, even with the low blood counts, he kept bowling. When I think about, I’m amazed.’’
Unfortunately for Cameron, the treatments he received didn’t produce the desired results and as his eighth-grade school year began, he was placed on the national Be the Match bone marrow registry.
Waiting times for a match can vary, but in Cameron’s case one was found in just a few months. And on Dec. 29, 2015 he underwent a transplant at Boston Children’s Hospital, a painstaking procedure where a patient’s body is re-started with new stem cells that need time to grow and take hold.
Six weeks in the hospital were followed by six more months of isolation, school tutoring, the entire Hurwitz family living in the germ-free lane, and the family bonding like an alley’s glued wooden strips.
Throughout his recovery, Cameron kept bowling after hours, determined to be ready for his freshman season. Bowling had become his medicine.