This is a story on Heaven.
For Mary Jo Fromm, Heaven can refer to a few things. Heaven is where her grandparents are. Heaven is a bowling lane, somewhere in the Midwest.
And most importantly, Heaven is her daughter, a Special Olympics Illinois athlete, on her way to the State Bowling Tournament this December.
Heaven was born in September 2009, at 25 weeks and 3 days old. She was 1.25 lbs. at birth. Mary Jo said the doctors told her to expect Heaven to do anything, or nothing, or something in between. Heaven may not be able to do what every other kid does, they said.
Heaven is blessed, according to Mary Jo. And Heaven bowls.
Heaven spent sixteen weeks in the NICU. Heaven grew. Heaven loves music. Heaven loves kicking her legs from her wheelchair and dancing. Heaven is mostly non-verbal, but Mary-Jo also knows Heaven loves to bowl. “You can tell,” Mary Jo said, breathlessly. “She loves bowling. She absolutely loves it.”
Heaven comes from a family of bowlers. Heaven’s great grandfather and great grandmother took Mary Jo and the family to Spare Time Lanes in Decatur every Saturday. They passed, five days apart, in 2012. Him, from cancer. Her, from a broken heart.
People may not understand how Heaven bowls, Mary Jo said. But she does, and it’s all on Heaven. Heaven has to know where to put her hand on the ball, how much force is needed down the ramp, what velocity it will take to knock down pins. There are so many factors when it comes to Heaven. “Bowling is in our blood,” Mary Jo said.
Heaven placed third at her first bowling qualifier for Special Olympics Illinois. That was three or four years ago. She then had corrective spine surgery in August 2020. Lots of hospital visits. She has been bowling again for the last year and a half.
Heaven has friends. Her friend Avery is another athlete. Avery’s mom, Nicole, grew up with Mary Jo. Heaven’s grown through her friendship with Avery and bowling. They bowl together, same lane. Being on a team has been wonderful for Heaven, Mary Jo said. “They’re the cutest and sweetest thing.”
Mary-Jo was nervous at qualifiers. Despite bowling being in their blood, despite her daughter’s affection for the sport, Mary Jo still had jitters going into the competition. And when the results were in, Heaven finished in first place. “FIRST!” Mary Jo exclaimed through tears. “I remember thinking, this is something huge. I never got to see something like that. It’s an overwhelming feeling that your kid accomplished something like that.”
At sectionals Mary Jo, again, had her nerves. Heaven didn’t have the best night of sleep. Even she seemed nervous. Heaven started fine, like herself, Mary Jo said. But then she became sluggish. Mary Jo cheered her on, and Heaven perked up (Heaven is funny like that, Mary- Jo said). She started to shake when Heaven was with the other athletes during the medal ceremony. One by one, they called each athlete’s name. And then they said, “Heaven. Heaven Fromm.”
Heaven won gold.
Heaven is gold.
“I just knew,” Mary Jo said, tears and all, “my grandparents, they would’ve been with her at every competition. Every practice. And I know how proud they must be.”
Heaven has big plans for the State Bowling Tournament in Peoria. She’s getting a hotel room along with her mom, Avery and Nicole. Avery video calls Heaven all the time. “She’s not always verbal,” Mary Jo said, “but man, she loves to blow kisses. Her and Avery. All they do is hold hands, and hang out, and blow kisses.”
“I am so blessed,” Mary Jo said, describing Heaven. Heaven dances. Heaven does ballet. Heaven is smart, as in, Heaven’s sassy. “She tries to make this mean face, but can never hold it,” added Mary Jo.
She thinks back to when a nurse, pointed out Heaven’s name, when categorized by last name says, “Fromm, Heaven” and Mary Jo has always remembered that.
“I got so, so lucky,” Mary Jo said. “Heaven is it,” she said. “Heaven is it.”
Update: Heaven placed third in her division and received a bronze medal at the 2022 State Bowling tournament. To view more results from the State Bowling tournament, please click here. To see pictures from the event, visit our Flickr page.
To learn more about the 2023 State Bowling tournament, please click here. And, to support Heaven and athletes like her, please click here.