After no off-season, Rash begins defense of PBA Player of Year title

Beth Bragg
courtesy Professional Bowlers AssociationSean Rash of Anchorage reacts after winning April's PBA Tournament Of Champions in Las Vegas, a victory that vaulted him to Player of theYear honors in the PBA. Rash returned to PBA action for last week'sseason-opening competition.
courtesy Professional Bowlers AssociationSean Rash of Anchorage rolls the ball during his championship victoryover Ryan Ciminelli in April's PBA Tournament of Champions in LasVegas. Rash rode his win in the tournament to PBA Player of the Yearhonors.

Sean Rash tweeted a photo from Cancun this week, a shot of his smiling young wife holding a champagne glass against a backdrop of sunshine and blue water. You look at it and you think, this is what life is like for an ESPY-winning athlete coming off the biggest season of his career.

Then you talk to Rash, a 30-year-old Dimond High graduate, and you learn what his life is really like in the aftermath of being named the Professional Bowlers Association's Player of the Year, and you figure he has earned his day in the sun.

Since claiming the top honor in his sport and collecting an ESPY Award as the fan choice for best bowler, Rash has had little time to relax on a beach or anywhere else.

A new PBA season opened last week in Las Vegas, but for Rash, there was no real offseason to speak of. He came to last week's World Series of Bowling just days after placing second in the Australian Masters in Sydney. After a week-long vacation in Mexico with wife Sara, he will head to Japan for another tournament. Not long after that, he returns to Anchorage for December's Sean Rash Stars of the Future, a tournament that he created when he was 13.

By the time the year ends, Rash will have traveled 200,000 miles, which is why he's planning to take about a month off from competition after the Japan tournament.

"This is higher than normal," he said of the mileage he will log this year. "Last year it was about 120,000 miles. It's usually between 115,000 and 125,000, but this year I put a few more things on my schedule. I've been bowling well, so you do what you can while you can."

Rash is beginning his eighth season on the PBA Tour and his first as the reigning MVP of bowling.

He earned Player of the Year honors in May, about a month after he won the season-ending PBA Tournament of Champions. The award capped a season in which Rash earned $140,250 in prize money and posted an average of 228.13.

"It's nice to have Player of the Year on your resume," Rash said in an interview last week. "When people look back at great players, they look at players who have those credentials and wins in the majors and longevity.

"I kind of hope people look back on how much I've given back -- the Sean Rash tournament and the camps I do around the world."

Rash said he's certain he is the only PBA player who hosted his own tournament as a teenager, although a number of top bowlers start events once they are adults making a living from the game.

Rash wasn't even in high school when, frustrated by the lack of scratch tournaments for kids in Alaska, he started his own at Jewel Lake Bowl, the alley where he grew up bowling. The tournament, now in its 18th year, has awarded nearly $25,000 in scholarships over the years.

Rash will appear at this year's tournament despite increased demands on his time as Player of the Year.

"You get requests to do certain things and go certain places," he said. "When you become one of the top four or five bowlers in the world, people want to see you.

"It's surreal, the people asking you for your autograph and taking your picture. People even ask my wife for her autograph," he said.

Rash said he has bowled in Australia, Thailand, Korea, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Germany since being named Player of the Year.

He has also added a new sponsor -- Xbox 360. The deal happened because of contacts he made at the ESPY Awards this summer, he said.

Rash added the Xbox sponsorship to existing deals with Brunswick, Vise Grips and Matrix Basement Systems, a Chicago business near Rash's home in Montgomery, Ill. He has been with Brunswick for nearly one-third of his life -- he signed an amateur contract with the company two years out of high school and became a member of the Brunswick pro staff when he joined the PBA Tour in 2005.

The endorsement deals are in addition to Rash's prize winnings, which total more than $600,000 since he turned professional after a successful college career at Wichita State.

His wife Sara bowled for Western Illinois and met Rash at the college national championships. They married earlier this year. She bowls in PBA regional competitions and carried a 210 average last year.

As for Rash, he opened the new season last week in Las Vegas by posting the second-best average during qualifying. He averaged 239.75 over 56 games in qualifying and match play; his total pinfall of 13,426 was 29 pins fewer than the No. 1 qualifier, Australia's Jason Belmonte.

"I don't feel any pressure yet. I'm sure there are times when I will, but my coach and my family will get me through it," Rash said. "I'm thankful to be competing at a high level in a great sport."


Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.