ARMLESS BOWLER ROLLS 300 AT LIFE His feet work fine in league play


FORT RITCHIE -- David Hicks stands on Lane 8 of the Fort Ritchie Bowling Center warming up with his wife, Julie.

She places the ball at his feet. He nudges it ahead with two gentle kicks, takes four small steps and then, with his right foot, steps hard on the edge of the ball, squirting it forward toward the pins.

Halfway down the alley, the ball plops into the gutter. Mr. Hicks spins around, a big smile on his face.

"I'm back!" he declares.

And so he is. The bowler with no arms has come back for another season of the Thursday mixed-doubles league at this Washington County military post. Mr. Hicks, 29, has come back from a devastating injury five years ago that transformed a young, carefree life into one of dependence and struggle.

"I'm more or less a 30-year-old man caught in the time warp of a 1-year-old kid," he says. "My wife has to do everything for me.

"But I've tried not to get too down about it. I guess I look at it as: This is the way it is, no sense crying or anything else; that's not going to change anything."

On Memorial Day 1988, while Mr. Hicks was stationed at Fort Ritchie, his motorcycle crashed on a winding road near the base. Mr. Hicks has a hazy recollection of events that morning, but no memory of the wreck that night.

But another man aboard the motorcycle was killed. And Mr. Hicks, who apparently has even blocked out the memory of whether he was driving, was gravely injured.

Doctors amputated his right arm immediately. The nerves of his left arm had been ripped from the spinal cord, but doctors saved the arm, hoping that it would regain feeling.

After several months in hospitals, Mr. Hicks carried it in a sling until February 1992, when doctors finally amputated it, too. At that time, they gave him prostheses. But Mr. Hicks and artificial limbs didn't get along. He doesn't use them.

At the bowling alley he wears jeans and a short-sleeve shirt. He moves easily among the bowlers, many of whom he's known since joining the league, reluctantly, two years ago.

'One helluva great gal'

"When I saw him bowling," says Normagene Helfrick, 68, a bowler on another team, "I thought, 'I really admire that young man.' That's the first thing that crossed my mind.

"The next thing that crossed my mind was about his wife. 'She must be one helluva great gal.' "

Julie and David met through mutual friends at a bar in December 1989, a year and a half after the accident.

"We just talked, and he was funny," Julie Hicks says. "I didn't even notice he had no arms for 45 minutes. The arm that was missing was against a wall, and the other arm was in a sling. I assumed it was broken.

"But then when he stood up I realized why he'd been leaning forward to drink out of a straw."

They got married in September 1990 and had two children, Christopher Jordan, 3, and Taylor Ann, 1. But before that, Julie moved in with him. They both wanted to make sure she could handle it.

"She's an amazing woman," Mr. Hicks says, turning to look at her. "Tell him what your day is like. Tell him everything you have to do, from the time you get up."

She shakes her head.

"Nobody wants to hear about cooking meals, giving baths . . . brushing teeth, flossing teeth," she says.

They live in Mont Alto, Pa., just across the state line -- about a 20-minute drive from the bowling lanes. They survive on his disability income from Social Security and the Veterans Administration.

Mr. Hicks says he'd like someday to volunteer at hospitals, counseling people who've lost limbs. But that's impossible now; he can't drive, he can't eat or even use the bathroom by himself, and his wife can't leave the children to go with him.

In fact, they're together all the time. They've actually computed how much more they're together than other couples.

"One year of our marriage is like three or four years of marriage on a normal basis," Mr. Hicks says.

They can't ask one another: "How was your day?"

"Nothing happens we don't know about," Mrs. Hicks says. "About every six months we pick a fight over nothing so we can walk around the house and not talk to each other for two days.

"I've gotten real mad at him and threatened to leave for the afternoon. But by the time I got him all set up to be without me I wasn't mad anymore."

The hardest adjustment

Mr. Hicks says losing his independence has been the hardest adjustment he's had to make.

"For instance," he says, "our anniversary is Monday. It'd be nice to get into a vehicle by myself and drive to a mall, and pick out an anniversary card or present for my wife. But she always has to take me. She always knows what she's getting."

He says he's gone with friends a couple of times, but doesn't like to impose. His family lives in Missouri.

"I'd give both legs -- and walk on prostheses -- for one good arm," he says. "You can't do anything without arms."

That's not exactly true, because Mr. Hicks fathered two children. And he mows the lawn by sitting back on the seat of a riding mower and steering with his feet. He turns the pages of a book, kicks firewood up to the house and changes diapers -- all with his feet.

And he bowls.

His wife talked him into it. He was teaching her, nudging the ball into place with his feet, when she persuaded him he could it, too.

They joined the mixed-doubles league.

"It felt kind of uncomfortable at first," he says, "coming into a place where I didn't know anybody, and kicking the ball instead of throwing it like normal people or, I should say, people with arms, do."

He and his wife became an inspiration.

"It takes quite an individual to come back from where he was," says Agnes Dobson, who lives in Gettysburg. "And that wife, she's more than a saint. Mother Theresa's got nothing on her."

Mr. Hicks started out scoring in the 70s. Now he averages about 100. His highest game bowling with his feet is an astounding 163.

The Hickses and their teammates haven't decided on the name of their team this year. Last year, Mr. Hicks says with a grin, it was Three Hands and One Foot.

They finished last. But that was just one way of keeping score.

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