Near the end of his attempt at the record, Tony Bordenelli’s badly blistered left hand was sporting a rubber glove and his right thumb was wound with wrinkled medical tape as he staggered from lane to lane in Soldotna’s new bowling alley, the Sky Bowl, sending one ball after another toward the pins at the other end of the hardwood.
Doggedly he persisted until, at 3:19 a.m. June 26, 1960, he completed his 1,002nd consecutive game, breaking the world record of 1,001 straight games set by 37-year-old Steve Karpinski of Plainville, Conn., who had completed the task in 110 hours and 7 minutes.
At that point, according to a July 8, 1960, article in The Cheechako News, Bordenelli’s wife, Eyvohn, gave him a celebratory hug and a kiss, which prompted the 45-year-old, 147-pound Bordenelli to pick up his bride and swing her around in his arms.
Then someone in the crowd of spectators called out, “Are you through?”
Bordenelli replied, “Well, I think I’ll just bowl six more games and give that fool in Connecticut something to shoot at.”
Bordenelli had bowled a 106 in game number 1,002. In the next six games, he went on to post a 112, a 107, a 115, a 104, a 133, and a 116, mostly to the cheering of spectators marveling at his endurance.
In the end, he had bowled 1,008 straight games in 79 hours and 45 minutes, averaging 101.7 pins per game and nearly 13 games an hour. By the estimate of Sky Bowl owner, Burton Carver, the right-handed Bordenelli had bowled about 40 percent of his games left-handed, including his low-score game (his 880th) of 13. His highest score for one game had been a 183.
A team of eight scorekeepers had worked in shifts to keep track of Bordenelli’s progress and to form an official record of the event. After all the numbers were tallied, they determined that Bordenelli had made 924 strikes and had knocked down a total of 102,548 pins.
Alan Phillips, who had been a 15-year-old scorekeeper during some of the evening and early morning hours, said that the attempt at the record “was the most exciting thing going on in the whole town.”
“Back in those days, the bowling alley was one of the only gathering places, other than the post office,” Philips said, and so local residents wandered in and out during all times of the day to check on Bordenelli’s progress.
After the final game, Bordenelli posed for a photograph with Carver and his trainer, Charlie Hill, who then gave the exhausted bowler a rubdown for his aching muscles. In the victory photo — which appeared on page one of the newspaper under a banner headline proclaiming his success — all three men are holding bowling balls, but Bordenelli is holding his ball with his wrists instead of his gnarled hands. Blood can be seen on his right hand, while both of his thumbs are coiled in tape.
According to Bordenelli’s good friend, Ray LaFrenere, who wrote about the incident in Once Upon the Kenai, the whole affair came about because of Bordenelli’s affinity for gambling — a predilection remembered by other area residents of that time. LaFrenere said that if his friend had been alive in the days of Skagway’s famous Soapy Smith, “I’d guess that Smith would have had to take a back seat.”
LaFrenere claimed that Bordenelli, who hailed from Colorado Springs, Colo., and owned the Jet Bar in Kenai, “bet a couple high rollers that he could bowl 1,000 games nonstop.”
That bet apparently led Bordenelli to Carver, who helped him set up the event.
They began by contacting the American Bowling Congress to find out information concerning the feat, which is how they learned of Karpinski’s mark. The Sky Bowl sponsored Bordenelli, and Carver promised him a check for $1,000 if he succeeded in breaking the record. Carver also encouraged spectators to contribute to the pot, and Bordenelli said he would give all the money to charity if he failed.
The Brunswick bowling company furnished Bordenelli with three specially fitted balls since he planned to bowl on three lanes simultaneously. He was allowed to break for 15 minutes each hour, but was not allowed to save his breaks and use them cumulatively. Plans were made to have a physician standing by in the latter stages of the attempt — just in case.
On day two, when a bloody callous had developed on the thumb of Bordenelli’s left hand, Dr. Paul Isaak arrived to remove the callous, tape the thumb and cover the digit with a protective metal guard.
Painful hands and fingers were not the first major hurdle that Bordenelli encountered, according to the newspaper. The Cheechako reported that the bowler’s biggest problem early on was his desire to sleep. Once he overcame that, the paper said, he stayed on pace for the record.
In his later years, Bordenelli moved to Anchorage, where, at the age of 89, he once again made headlines and once again demonstrated his toughness. In a 2003 article in the Anchorage Daily News is a report of Bordenelli trying to fight off an intruder in his Fairview neighborhood home. Accompanying the story is a color photograph that shows Bordenelli with a small cut on his left temple and a swirl of yellow and dark purple around his left eye.
According to the story, on the evening of June 16, he and his second wife, Patty, and their infant daughter were at home when a man burst in through the front door they had propped open to help circulate the air inside. While his wife and child hid in a closet, Bordenelli faced the intruder.
The attacker, wielding a pellet gun, shoved Bordenelli into a bathroom and onto the floor, where he straddled the elderly man, demanding money. Bordenelli kicked the man between the legs.
“That’s when he shot me,” Bordenelli told the paper, showing a reporter a bandage on his upper chest. And when he tried to rise, the attacker pistol-whipped him across the left temple before stealing money and other items from his pants pockets and fleeing the scene.
The reporter, in recounting the incident, called Bordenelli “a former boxer” and referred to a newspaper clipping of his bowling record framed on one wall.
Bordenelli, for his part, remained tough and resolute, even in defeat.
“If I saw him coming in,” he said of the intruder, “it would have been a different story.”