Nikki Martinsen didn't weigh much more than a tenpin ball when she started bowling.
The 3-year-old would use all her might to pick up a bowling ball, lug it to a spot near the foul line and roll it down the middle to knock over some pins.
She's never slowed down.
Now 22, the Annapolis resident is helping pay her way through college with her tournament winnings. She attends the Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville part time, works as a nanny full time and bowls in two leagues with an impressive 215 average.
"I love bowling, and I could not imagine not bowling," she said.
Martinsen got such an early start thanks to her mother, Judy Martinsen, who has worked at Annapolis Bowl for more than 25 years. She's the youth director at Annapolis Bowl and serves on the state's United States Bowling Congress board.
Judy Martinsen said her daughter had a 38 average at age 5 when bowling without bumpers for the first time. The numbers quickly went up from there.
"She took an interest in it," said Judy Martinsen. "She always had beautiful form, and the coaches that worked with her did a great job of teaching her."
Bowling also enabled Nikki Martinsen to overcome something that could have been an issue in other sports: her height. She is just 5 feet tall, so instead of throwing the ball with power, she has focused on precision - and practiced endlessly.
Martinsen began getting serious about the sport around the age of 10 and eventually began competing in tournaments that offered prize money. She had accumulated $4,000 by the time she started at CCBC.
"I always saw that she was winning virtually every youth event that was taking place," said Stacy Karten, who runs the Free State Classic Tenpin Tour in the Baltimore-Washington area. "She's a skilled bowler."
Martinsen won one of Karten's tournaments last year, he added.
"Once I realized I could win the scholarships through bowling, I [pushed]," Martinsen said. "The more I got, the farther I realized I could go."
Martinsen participates in at least one tournament a weekend in addition to her leagues. She said she's about 75 percent finished with her college career and hopes to earn her associate's degree in early childhood development in about two years.
Martinsen had thoughts about going professional full time, but there is no longer a women's tour. Women have to work their way into the men's tour, a daunting prospect even before considering the costs of competing, which can easily climb into five figures.
For now, Martinsen dreams of owning or directing a day care center. She loves working with a Severna Park family five days a week, watching a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old and 6-month-old twins. At night she bowls in leagues two nights a week and substitutes in other leagues whenever possible.
She often bowls with boyfriend Dominick Snyder - they met in a youth league, and he has a 236 average - and will always find her way back to Annapolis Bowl.
"I grew up there because my Mom worked there ... and everyone knows me there," she said. "I just enjoy the people, and it makes me feel comfortable when I go in."