Shanita's bowling over her rivals with Junior Masters win
ASHLEY Clark tends to a customer at Grafton Tenpin Bowl.
The man who has 10 perfect 300 scores in his career is synonymous with the sport in the Clarence Valley.
But down on the lanes is a young lady already taking steps to upstage him. After all, Shanita Clark has just achieved something her father never could.
"He never won the Masters, so I have one up on him," Shanita grinned.
The 16-year-old has just returned from winning the Australian Junior Masters title - the highest accolade in the country for a junior tenpin bowler.
Ashley is nonplussed as he overhears the comparison, but admits his best effort at the same age was reaching round four of the nation-wide tournament.
And he acknowledges it has not been an easy road for Shanita. To say she has overcome adversity in her rise to the top would be an understatement.
She played 48 games across five days on the path to winning the title. Not bad for a girl who started school in a wheelchair.
Shanita has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since she was 18 months old.
Affecting the joints from her hips to her feet and elbows down to her hands, she was in a full-length cast at the age of two to prevent deformities associated with the disorder during growth.
She started school in a wheelchair and has been on injected medication most of her life. Now in Year 11 at Clarence Valley Anglican School, her arthritis is currently dormant and all that is required is regular check-ups with the specialist in Brisbane.
Fortunately for Shanita, being surrounded by tenpin bowling from a young age has provided an ideal environment in which to manage the condition. The sport adheres to her specialist's advice to keep active and it is not a high-impact sport.
Remarkably, some minor knee pain was her only complaint from the tournament.
"I still have to manage it," Shanita said. "I had the heat pack on the knee a lot while I was away."
While there have been physical challenges along the way, she has inherited a massive mental edge, adopting a relaxed approach and seemingly unfazed by pressure in the big moments.
"I've learnt from dad not to focus too much about the score," she said.
"There are always days when you're going to bowl a bad game. I don't get frustrated and just get my head in the zone as I approach. That comes pretty naturally.
"I didn't get nervous at the Masters. I was just really happy I got that far."
Held at Lidcombe in Sydney, the Masters wrapped up two weeks of national competition, which included a second place for Shanita in the Classic Cup, and the President's Shield Interstate Cup in which she represented Northern NSW who finished fifth.
The bowlers with the best averages then qualified for the Masters - which she missed out on last year - and one by one bowled over her opponents in the knockout format.
"There were a couple of close matches," she said.
"The semi-final was a tough one against Emily Cross from Victoria. It had to go to a fifth game and could've gone either way."
Shanita took just four games to dismantle ACT's Zoe Trungrove in the final.
"It's the biggest thing on the junior calendar, so I'm really happy.
"I had lots of friends around to support me so it was really nice."
Shanita averaged 177 per game for the tournament. She also currently holds five out of seven 2014 lane records at Grafton Tenpin Bowl, with a season best of 247.
Incredibly, Shanita will be eligible to compete as a junior for two more years. On May 23-24, however, she will compete at Under-21 level in the Sydney Youth Cup at Campbelltown Bowl.
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