by Fred Eisenhammer
LA MESA, Calif. – “Amazing.”
That’s how Rich Lapiezo’s friends describe him, but that’s clearly an understatement.
The 69-year-old Lapiezo recently went on an honor-score rampage that even left Lapiezo stunned. “I’m still in shock,” he said last week. “I can’t believe it.”
Lapiezo, a La Mesa resident who turns 70 on September 4, reeled off five perfect games in league play within a month at Parkway Bowl in the San Diego County city of El Cajon. It all started July 9 when he rolled his second 300 of the year and sixth of his career.
Lapiezo, who carries a 225 average, then racked up additional perfectos July 12, July 19, July 26 and Aug. 9. On July 19, Lapiezo also busted a personal-best 834 series (257-277-300), his third 800 series.
“Two twenty-five is the best I’ve ever averaged,” Lapiezo said. “I’m almost embarrassed about it. I can’t believe I’m bowling as well as I am.
“I’d say I’m an easy 210 house-shot bowler. But by no stretch of the imagination am I a 225 bowler. I’m just in a zone right now.
“I’m just enjoying it. I know how quickly it can go away.”
Said Parkway Bowl manager John Balla: “The reason I admire him so much is that he’s so humble.”
Oh, there’s another special quality about Lapiezo. He has a prosthetic right leg, which forced him to devise a three-step approach where he could maintain his balance while flinging the ball. (“I like to call it ‘grip and rip,’ he says.)
Lapiezo suffered an injury to his right leg while working as a pipefitter foreman at the naval base in San Diego. “I slipped on a pipe and fell 10 feet and messed up the right knee,” Lapiezo recalls about the 1981 accident.
In the next 17 years, Lapiezo developed nine blood clots in his right leg and suffered nerve damage. The upshot was that doctors finally needed to remove his leg above the knee.
When Lapiezo returned to the game in 2008, he hadn’t bowled in nearly two decades, but he was eager to try to recapture the success he had before he was injured – such as when he won the California state 1966 high school scratch match-game championship. He went on to finish third in the national tournament. “My claim to fame,” he says with a laugh.
Lapiezo said it took him three years before he could feel comfortably balanced bowling with his prosthetic leg. In 2013, he marked his return with a perfect game and he’s continued to pick up steam. He’s even nailed three 7-10 splits.
“Last year I picked it [7-10] up twice within three weeks,” Lapiezo said. “That was really surprising because I throw the ball [a mere] 13 miles per hour. It was total luck.”
Marc Scherlis, one of Lapiezo’s longtime friends, says simply that Lapiezo is “a frickin’ marvel.”
As for his 300s, each one represents a hugely joyful event for Lapiezo.
Whether it’s his first, second, third or 10th perfecto, “I can’t ever imagine being complacent,” he says. “It’s still a shock – an adrenaline-rush feeling. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.
“I am truly blessed.”