In the case of two men at the Mid-Carolina Senior Games, serving together is not just subject to the military, but also in the sport of bowling.
Two of the eldest bowlers at the games, Douglas Hepner and Sam Mathis, have been bowling together for over 20 years.
“Doug and I met at Pope (Field),” said Mathis, 90, registered athlete for the Mid-Carolina Senior Games. “We were both stationed at Bragg. We have been bowling together ever since we met.”
Mathis began participating in the sport in 1968 when he was stationed in Germany. Alongside bowling competitively, as an individual and a team unit with Hepner in the Mid-Carolina Senior Games, Mathis participates in the track and field events. He has won four medals in track and field for the 2019 games: the long jump, shot put, power walk and sprint.
Hepner, 90, has been bowling for over 70 years since he was a teenager. Serving in the Army’s military intelligence branch, Hepner retired at Bragg in 1980. Like his bowling partner Mathis, Hepner participates in both the Mid-Carolina Senior Games and the Bragg-Pope United States Bowling Conference (USBC) association tournament every year.
“I was bowling before they had kingpins,” Hepner said. “I started bowling in 1945.”
Both Hepner and Mathis have been participating in the senior sames together since 2006. Both veterans now compete in the 90 to 94 age category for their events.
Bowling consists of 10 frames. In each frame, the bowler has the chance to knock down as many pins as possible, the total being 10. Strength and endurance are at the forefront of the bowling skillsets. But technical nuances, consistency and resilience, developed through time and experience, are what set successful bowlers apart from the rest.
Legally blind since the age of 84, Hepner is assisted in the sport by his two daughters. He refers to them as “his eyes.” They assist him with pins, scoring, and elements he cannot determine from a distance. A skilled bowler with years under his belt, Hepner has developed an ability to predetermine his score in the game, merely by distinguishing his marks in the lanes directly in front of him.
Bowling three nights a week and constantly on the move, Hepner, like Mathis, does not like to sit and be idle, crediting the sport and his active lifestyle for maintaining his youth.
“The games promote an active lifestyle and keep us young,” Mathis and Hepner said in unison.