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The Villages Daily Sun
The Villages, Florida

IKAN Bowler® allows those suffering from spinal cord injuries to hit the lanes

Bill Miller and Marguerite SharpMarguerite Sharp, right, places the bowling ball on the Ikan Bowler® of Bill Miller’s wheelchair as he prepares to bowl a strike at the Spanish Springs Lanes in The Villages. George Horsford / Daily Sun

THE VILLAGES — Bill Miller glides down the waxed lanes of Spanish Springs

Lanes bowling center and carefully lines up his shot before pausing at the foul line. He releases the ball, which rolls slowly, but steadily, toward its 10 targets. As it smashes the pins, a single one remains standing.

“Should have been a strike,” remarks Miller, who, with a hard sip of air, reverses his power wheelchair and rolls back to the ball return. Miller, a 29-year-old quadriplegic, is the inspiration behind, and co-creator of, the IKAN Bowler®, a device that allows even those suffering from severe spinal cord injuries an opportunity to hit the lanes.

“This is real bowling,” Miller said, leaning back in his wheelchair. “How well I drive my chair and execute the shot – that’s how well I bowl.”

The apparatus, which was developed in Leesburg, has progressed from a crude wooden attachment to a strong, yet durable, aluminum, stainless steel and PVC ramp that connects to the footrest of almost any wheelchair. At the direction of the bowler, a caddy places the ball atop the ramp. The chair, rolling at no more than four mph, creates the momentum while inertia drives the ball down the ramp and onto the lanes. Skilled bowlers can even put a spin on their shots by instructing their aide in positioning the ball’s finger holes.

The American Bowling Congress and the Women’s International Bowling Congress approved it for league play, and it won a 2004 da Vinci Award for outstanding engineering.

Miller’s father, Jim Miller, recently donated $25,000 to The Rotary Club of The Villages, which will in turn purchase 25 of the devices — complete with the new IKAN Power Soccer attachment – from the IKAN Sports Foundation, a nonprofit organization. The equipment, which is designed to get disabled people “back into the game of life,” will be marked with the club’s logo and be distributed to 25 wheelchair-bound recipients.

“These devices help people who have been traumatized by the fact that they can no longer walk anymore and are confined to a wheelchair,” said Rotary Club President Jo Weber. “They need this device to go through rehab and to (let them know that) you’re still a part of us.”

The Rotary Club of The Villages adopted the IKAN Sports Foundation as its Centennial Project. In 2003, The Rotary Club matched funds raised by The Villages Elementary of Lady Lake students, and together purchased three IKAN Bowlers®. The club donated the bowlers to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, the late Wendell Howell of Eustis and Jennifer Harman, 23, of Altamonte Springs, who, during a Fourth of July party in 2000 dove into a shallow lake just three feet deep and emerged from the water paralyzed.

“It was basically cool to try a sport I thought I would never get a chance to try again,” Harman said of her IKAN Bowler®. “Socially, I never went out with my old friends that aren’t in wheelchairs, so it was cool to meet other quads.”

She said she expects the next round of recipients to share her sentiments.

“It would really benefit a lot of people’s lives, I’m sure,” she said.

The Men Behind the Machine

Miller was an active young math major beginning his senior year at the University of Florida in 1997. In a moment, life as he knew it changed forever when he tripped in his dorm room and broke his neck. The freak accident left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Once Bill returned home from the hospital, his family fretted over ways to improve his quality of life. His stepmother, Lake County Circuit Judge Donna Miller, was convinced Miller could somehow participate in a recreational activity.

What started as bowling with empty soda bottles on the family’s Leesburg driveway eventually evolved into the lightweight, high-quality IKAN Bowler®, a device with the potential to bring hope to thousands.

While volunteering as a bailiff in Judge Miller’s courtroom, Canadian expatriate Claude Giguere, of Leesburg, noticed a photograph on her bench that pictured the wheelchair-bound young man.

Upon hearing of Miller’s plight, Giguere, a retired General Motors engineer, began working on the device’s first prototype. He cobbled together wood and straps, and used Miller as his willing guinea pig. The first mechanism weighed 53 pounds, and had to be put back together after each shot, Giguere said. But through grueling trial and error, and with bloodshot eyes in the early morning hours at Spanish Springs, the device was worked into a patented precision bowling arm and universal mount that attaches to almost any wheelchair’s footrest.

“This was developed right here in Spanish Springs,” said Giguere.

Giguere, Miller and Tampa businessman Vince Tifer formed the MGT Corporation and began manufacturing the apparatus. MGT works closely with the IKAN Sports Foundation to promote “barrier-free bowling.”

They named it IKAN, short for Ikanos, a Greek word meaning to enable.

Miller formed the Quad Squad, a bowling team that began with six bowlers who met every month at Spanish Springs Lanes. Miller holds the team’s record, with a score of 201 — higher than many able-bodied bowlers.

“I have learned more in the past three years about humanity than in the previous 60 years of my life,” Giguere said of the Quad Squad. “Those kids are the most beautiful people in the world, bar none.”

A shot at the future

Seven years after his accident, Miller began taking classes once more through a University of Florida online business bachelor’s degree program.

“I watch my classes over the Internet in my own home,” Miller said. “I was thrilled to go back. I’m also thrilled to see The Villages Rotary Club distribute the IKAN Bowlers® throughout the country.”

By summer 2008, Miller hopes to graduate with honors, but also has some more large-scale goals in mind.

“I could be in China demonstrating the IKAN Bowler®,” said Miller, who is working to get bowling considered for the Paralympics by demonstrating the device in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

“If I can bowl, anybody in a wheelchair can bowl, too,” he said. “Coming soon to a city near you … ”

Elisha Pappacoda is a reporter with the Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9268, or at

One thing I’d like to clarify, is that 25 different Blaze Sports organizations (all over the country) will be the recipients, not individuals. Each of the 25 selected Blaze Sports organizations will receive a universal mount, an IKAN Bowler® attachment and an IKAN Soccer Guard attachment (the mount works with both). These organizations have chosen the mission to incorporate people with disabilities into sports, and already have wheelchair users coming to them with interest. The Villages Rotary here will be a “sister club” to the local Rotary where these Blaze Sports organizations are. Our hope is that the local Rotary Clubs will see the need and help equip their local Blaze organization for the benefit of all the wheelchair users in their community. Power Soccer is the fastest growing wheelchair sport (especially for quads) in the country, and each team has 4 players competing at one time.

Bill Miller