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Billings’ goal is to bowl again

November 20, 2012
By STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Sports Writer ( , The Mining Journal

Branden Billings is just hoping to throw a bowling ball again next spring.

That wouldn't seem like much of a goal for a typical 28-year-old, but for this Ishpeming resident, it would be quite a comeback from a disease that paralyzed him from the neck down and forced him onto a ventilator for close to two months last summer.

If you saw Sunday's Mining Journal, a benefit will be held this Saturday for Billings, who was suddenly stricken with Guillain-Barre Syndrome in June.

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The benefit will help pay for bills that weren't covered by insurance, including an emergency medical flight downstate and months of physical therapy he's had to go through since.

In June, he went from having flu-like symptoms one day to barely being able to walk the next, to having to be carried out of his house the day after that.

I'm happy to report that Billings is now able to walk again and even get up and down his stairs at the home he shares with his girlfriend, Karly Keller, though he has to be careful since he still has some balance and strength issues.

"My goal is to be able to play sports again sometime next year," he told me be telephone over the weekend. "I'm still going to physical therapy three days a week. I had to relearn how to do everything."

From what he understands of this neurological disease, which only strikes one or two people out of 100,000 people annually, it actually killed his nerve cells, and now he's had to regrow them.

"I couldn't talk for about eight weeks," he said while he was on a ventilator. "But I went from being a complete blob to the point where I could dress myself and walk with a walker or a cane."

That happened while he was at the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Center in Grand Rapids.

Billings is more than just a bowler, he's a tournament tennis player and likes to play basketball, softball and volleyball year round.

I first met Branden 10 years ago last month after he wowed everybody at Country Lanes in Ishpeming when he rolled a perfect 300 game and accomplished an even tougher feat, hitting 812 for his three-game series.

Though this 2002 graduate of Ishpeming High School was on the school bowling team for three years, nobody ever expected any scores like this to come out of Billings, who was a freshman at Northern Michigan University at the time.

What was neat about it was that his father, Kurt, was there to see the feat only by accident. Even though the two are teammates, Dad was going to take the night off until another member of the team said he couldn't make it at the last minute, reinserting Kurt into the lineup.

And Branden said his dad, mom Donna and Keller were instrumental in helping him get through the bad days of last summer.

"They were there all the time, both when I was at Marquette General Hospital and when I was at Mary Free Bed," Billings said.

In case you missed it in Sunday's paper, Saturday's fundraiser takes place at Flanigan's in Marquette from 1-6 p.m. and includes a chili cookoff and karaoke contest. For more details, or to contribute without attending, call Karly Keller at 361-5275.

Now on to this week's Mining Journal Bowlers of the Week.

Richard MacRae equaled his feat from two weeks earlier with a gigantic 154-pins-over-average effort in the Thursday NMU class at Superior Lanes. This time with an average up to 78, he shot 388 on games of 137, 136 and 115.

Not far behind was Jeff Wood in the Monday Northern Electric Automotive Industrial League at Country Lanes at plus-150. He bombed his 142 average with a 572 series on games of 173, 202 and 201. I have to say I was impressed with his effort, even though it was my team he was beating that night.

Also in the running was Andy Goldsworthy of the Tuesday Miller Genuine Draft Major League at Country. He shot 136 pins over his 189 average with 703, hitting 255, 225 and 223.

For the ladies, Amber Buckmaster shot 86 pins over her 204 average with 698 on games of 230, 242 and 226 in the Wednesday Industrial League at Superior Lanes.

Just missing the first women's 700 of the season is an impressive feat, and again, I say that even as she was beating my team's brains in with that score.

What can I say, I guess I just bring the best out in everybody, but at least it will be a nice Thanksgiving for those bowlers.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.



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