June 23, 1980 12:00 PM

You’d see this little person walk up to the alley,” recalls a pro bowling official, “and you’d think, ‘No way.’ ” The 5’2″, 125-pound Donna Adamek fooled a lot of people. But for the past two years she has been named Woman Bowler of the Year, and she’s only 23.

Her bank account has not kept pace with her reputation, she complains. “Here I am, at the top of my sport, and I’m only endorsing two things, balls and gloves,” she says. “I don’t want gobs of money, just enough to live comfortably and buy whatever I want—like a new BMW.”

Last year Donna finished second, with $21,515, to leading tour-money winner Pat Costello, who earned $25,060. (Mark Roth, the men’s champ, won $124,517.) “What I win in a year,” sighs Adamek, “Tracy Austin wins in a single tournament.”

That may change. Donna and such competitors as Paula Sperber Carter and Linda Woodruff, Miss Kentucky of 1979 and now a pro bowler, are boosting the sport’s glamor quotient. Bigger sponsors are financing the tour, and the women pros’ association is negotiating with CBS for regular coverage. “Women bowlers have the image of truck drivers from way back,” says Donna, “but it isn’t that way now. We’re more ladylike than the golfers.”

Youngest of four children, Donna grew up in Monrovia, Calif., 14 miles northeast of Los Angeles. She has always bowled right-handed, but does everything else with her left. “She’d set the table when she was little,” recalls her mother, Eula, “and all the silver would be opposite.” At 10, she could outbowl her parents (rolling a 200 in only her fourth game). After dropping out of Cal State at 19 in 1976, she joined the pro tour.

In 1977 she led it with best average score, 207.166, and again the next year, with 203.68. Adamek is already seventh on the all-time earnings list and, despite her pleas of penury, she supplemented her tournament income last year with about $30,000 from exhibitions and endorsements. She uses a 15-pound 10-ounce ball, six ounces lighter than the maximum allowed, heavy for a woman her size. She owns about 100 bowling balls (provided free by her sponsor, Columbia Industries, Inc.) and wears one out every two or three weeks. Because she needs varying grips depending on alley conditions (the amount of oil on the lanes, for instance), she carries a half dozen with heron the road.

Until recently Donna drove to many tournaments in a customized van, but now, because her schedule is crowded with clinics and personal appearances, she usually flies. She also moved out of her parents’ home and bought a $67,000 condominium that she shares with a high school friend, Pam Douglass. On the road, she usually settles into a motel and watches TV, preferably soap operas. “I guess I’m a loner,” she says, “but you don’t see any of the girls who are serious about winning out dancing the night before a tournament.”

Adamek dated a movie stunt man regularly for a while, but now is concentrating on her game, with one to two hours of practice every morning under the supervision of Tosh Kinjo, her coach. “I like my freedom,” she says. After a recent tournament in Arcadia, Calif., she went on a rare date to see Coal Miner’s Daughter and a friend kidded her, “Donna, it must be someone special.” Adamek shrugs. “I only wanted to see the movie.”

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