Getting through life’s strikes and gutters

Barbara Vernon takes a break during the Special Olympics bowling finals at Bremerton Lanes on Oct. 29. Vernon would take silver on the day. - Photo courtesy Robert Coe
Barbara Vernon takes a break during the Special Olympics bowling finals at Bremerton Lanes on Oct. 29. Vernon would take silver on the day.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Robert Coe

Barbara Vernon knows about strikes and gutters.

Not just the kind that grace Silverdale’s All Star Lanes and Casino or Bremerton Lanes, but the ones that come with everyday life.

Vernon, 37, suffers from brain damage that allows her to function at an 8-year-old level. But with the help of her stepfather, Robert Coe, Vernon has become an avid Special Olympic’s bowler with a penchant for helping those in need.

Vernon took the silver medal Saturday, Oct. 29 in the main event of the Special Olympic season, which runs from September to the end of October.

“Oh, she loves it,” Coe, 70, said of the competitive matches. “And she’s doing so much better in the competitions than when she first started out.”

In fact, Vernon’s final scores of 141, 107 and 122 dwarf the scores she posted while learning the sport with Coe in the mid-1980s.

“When she first started, 30 to 60 was her game,” Coe said. “We started bowling together and now Barbara’s in the hundreds consistently.”

“I’ve been bowling a long time,” Vernon added. “I like to bowl with the group. We’re a good team.”

Even though Vernon needs help herself to make it through some of life’s challenges, she is always eager to give it back. In addition to helping her Special Olympics bowling team, the Bremerton Giants, Vernon also is an active counselor assistant at Camp Burton on Vashon Island, has worked for the Central Kitsap School District for eight years in food service, is active with helping children at Silverdale United Methodist Church and helps Coe take care of her 86-year-old grandmother.

“We carry on the best we can,” said Coe, who also suffers from disabilities.

A big part of making it through tough times is Vernon’s ability to communicate where others cannot. He specifically remembered an encounter she had years ago at Camp Burton.

“They had a situation over there that brought tears to my eyes,” Coe said. “They had this girl in a wheelchair and no one could talk to her. Barbara went right over there and just started signing to her. She’s got a special gift.”

That gift has also helped Vernon get new Special Olympic bowlers on the squad. For example, she helped her friend Tori, a camper, join the bowling team this year. Also, she has helped another friend, Elizabeth, attend church regularly while also simply interacting with her.

“(Elizabeth’s) like a child to Barbara,” Coe said. “She’s a very giving person. She gives and gives and gives. I’m very proud of my redhead here.”

“I take her to church every Sunday,” Vernon said of Elizabeth. “She likes to sing

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