From bagging to bowling
Richie Gensman stands at the end of a bowling lane with his ball perched high in front of his chest. He surveys the scene: a 7-9-10 split — a difficult position for even the most skilled bowler.
With laser focus, Gensman reads the floor, adjusts his footing and in one smooth motion moves forward, swings his arm and releases the ball down the lane. The navy-and-gold markings of his custom-made bowling ball glimmer in the light as it slides towards the pins.
The ball hits the 9 and 10 pins, knocking the 9 toward the 7, which tumbles into the gutter as well. A difficult shot made to look easy.
Gensman pumps his arm in silent celebration, but just as soon as the pins are back up for the next frame, he's dead serious and focused once again.
Each Thursday, Gensman has a routine. He shows up at Tigard Bowl around noon, orders a chef salad and a soda, eats and then mentally prepares for the task at hand. While some in Lake Oswego might know him as the friendly-faced grocery bagger at Safeway on A Avenue, many don't know that Gensman is a passionate and dedicated bowler who has honed his skills over the past 27 years.
"(What intrigued me) was just how they hooked the ball, how they throw the ball and make it go their way. The control, the speed, the aim, everything," Gensman says.
It all started when he was 14 and living with his mother in Lake Grove. Their neighbor at the time was an amatuer bowler named Tal Kennedy. Kennedy took the time to teach Gensman the rules, technique and strategy behind bowling. Almost instantly, he was hooked.
Since then, the now-41-year-old Lake Oswego native has bowled at Tigard Bowl pretty much his entire career as an amateur bowler, and over the years he's become a part of the community there.
Owner-operator Mark Pearl has watched Gensman throughout the years and seen his skills and game progress from a 14-year-old who had no idea what he was doing, to a man who has a firm grasp on the technique and strategy behind the game.
It's been fun for Pearl to watch, he says.
"When I first met him, he had all the right ideas, but his body wouldn't let him do what his mind wanted it to," Pearl says. "He worked and worked and worked, and now he's shooting 200s every day. He's a great bowler."
On Thursdays, Gensman participates in two leagues, the "Crazy Trio" and "Mavericks." Both leagues offer him the challenge of playing against some of the area's best, but he's consistently placed high in both leagues. He averages a 177 per game, and a typical score for him in a three-game series is around 603. He posts his scores to Facebook each week and, according to Pearl, he's got quite the fanbase of people who follow his progress.
While Gensman has competed in several tournaments across the region, for now he's just focusing on improving his game, hanging out with his friends at Tigard Bowl and enjoying the sport as a hobby.
Asked what advice he would give to a 14-year-old version of himself, he says: Don't get mad.
"I sometimes will get angry if I miss a spare, but that's not good for my game," he says. "I just have to pretend it's the first frame and get past it."
In 2010, Gensman and teammates Ross Knute and Jeff Brandon won the Crazy Trio league and earned themselves their first trophy.
"I was like crying when I got that trophy because it was my first," he says. "I like bowling in leagues because of the competition, but practicing I can just pop in my earphones, listen to my iPod and just get into my zone."
Def Leppard and Bon Jovi are among two of Gensman's favorite artists to listen to while bowling. He's seen Def Leppard six times, and he plans to see them a seventh time with Journey when they come to the Moda Center in Portland this September.
Outside of bowling, Gensman is also a faithful Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks fan. He tries to make it to as many games as he can when his work and bowling schedule allow it. Gensman also likes to spend time with his girlfriend of a year and a half, fellow bowler Erica Buchanan.
If he's not bowling, watching the Trail Blazers or jamming out to Def Leppard, then he's probably working hard at Safeway, bagging groceries, fetching carts or just being an all-around team player, according to his manager, Jane Fisher.
Befween the former Albertsons store on State Street and Safeway, Gensman has logged 21 years at Albertsons Companies.
"Richie's such a nice guy. He's dependable, we can count on Richie," she says. "He's a great guy and great bowler, so we hope he goes far."