Meet Phillip and Ira, Unified Partners in Bowling
BY Laurie Menekou
February 01, 2018

Phillip Gray and Ira Varnum are among approximately 1.4 million people worldwide who take part in Unified Sports. Unified Sports break down stereotypes by essentially bringing athletes with and without disabilities together to play on the same team.

Bowling runs in both Ira’s and Phillip’s families; Phillip’s uncle and Ira’s grandfather both played the sport. In fact, after bringing his uncle to bowling practice each week, Phillip himself was recruited, approximately three years ago, to participate as a unified partner in bowling. Together, Phillip and Ira have attended national unified bowling tournaments in San Jose and Las Vegas. “Since the pairing, I feel as though my game has really improved,” said Phillip.

Now, Phillip and Ira are gearing up to bring their bowling talents to the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. From July 1-6, 2018, this unified team will participate alongside the 4,000 athletes representing all 50 states and D.C. competing in 14 team and individual sports, including soccer, bocce ball, tennis and volleyball.

Phillip is looking forward to enjoying time with Ira, seeing Seattle for the first time and being a spectator at some of the other sporting events. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his 1-year-old son and volunteering his time coaching young kids in basketball and flag football.

Ira started bowling around age 18. Now 41, he has more than 20 years of experience under his belt. When it comes to bowling, Ira has his own way of doing things. Instead of throwing his arm back and forward, as is common form, he keeps the ball in front of him the whole time, and then he throws it. His technique has allowed him to score strikes and spares with ease.

“It’s really incredible,” says Pamela Harris, Ira’s aunt. “Ira looks forward to going to practice every week. He knows a lot of people in the Special Olympics organization and he is excited to travel with them to Seattle.”

When Ira isn’t bowling, he enjoys playing basketball, doing word-search puzzles and playing video games. When asked what he is most excited about, Ira responds enthusiastically with one word – “Bowling!” With his blue bowling ball, black shoes and bowling glove, he and Phillip are ready to take on the Emerald City!


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