Ex-Middle Country bowler who overcame extreme pain is happy to see friend break her record

Melissa Sherwin, left, and former Middle Country teammate

Melissa Sherwin, left, and former Middle Country teammate Kelly Skalacki pose together at Port Jeff Bowl in Port Jefferson Station on Feb. 21, 2014. (Credit: Heather Walsh)

Melissa Sherwin and Kelly Skalacki, friends and former bowling teammates for five years, were linked once again last month.

Skalacki, a Newfield senior, narrowly broke Sherwin's Suffolk girls single-season average record in January. Days later, Sherwin courageously underwent surgery to amputate her left foot.

Triumph, they said. For both.

Sherwin, 19, woke up in a hospital bed on Jan. 30, the morning after surgery, stood with the help of a physical therapist and looked at her leg for the first time. The foot, which Sherwin said had caused unbearable pain, finally had been removed, just above the ankle.

"That's when it became real, like, 'I actually went through with this,'" said Sherwin, who graduated Newfield last year. 'It was a weird, mixed feeling. The world's idea of normal is having two feet, but I knew it was the right decision."

Sherwin said she was born with a club foot, a deformity in which the bones are undersized, turned inward and compounded, often stacked on top of each other. The constant friction and swelling, she said, often brought her to tears. After a seventh surgery last June failed to alleviate the pain, she said, amputation became "an obvious choice."

"I knew it was time to get it done," said Sherwin, whose surgery was performed by Dr. Lorenzo Gamez at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson. "I wanted to give myself a better life."

Sherwin, now on crutches, expects to recover in 3-4 months and hopes eventually to be fitted for a permanent prosthetic. With the surgery upcoming last year, and knowledge of the possible amputation, she had deferred college and put her bowling career on hold.

"I give her so much credit for having the courage to do that," Middle Country bowling coach Mandy Dominguez said. "She's someone I'm so proud to have coached, proud to say I know."

Despite the persistent pain and the obstacles throughout childhood -- physical and social -- Sherwin bowled with a prosthetic attachment and excelled. Last year, she had "a fairy-tale" season, setting the Suffolk average record (223.27), breaking the state tournament mark for high series, and teaming with Skalacki to deliver her combined-school Middle Country team to its first state championship.

"My senior year meant everything to me," she said, "so I do wish I could've held the record a little longer . . . But if someone had to break it, I'm glad it's Kelly. And in the back of my mind, I knew she could."

Skalacki posted a 223.52 average, just surpassing the Long Island mark of 223.50, set last year by Carey's Rebecca Gotterbarn, who competes for Sewanhaka District.

"It means a lot to me, especially the Suffolk one, because I know what Melissa went through to get it," Skalacki, 17, said. "I'm proud that at least it stays in the family."

The two friends each made Middle Country's varsity as a seventh-grader. The duo "had a great vibe" as teammates, Skalacki said, chasing championships and records, and continually raising the bar for each other. Sherwin's resolve, Skalacki added, also inspired the team.

"You would see her limping, but she wouldn't tell you she was in pain," Skalacki said. "She always pushed through and we admired that."

This season Skalacki led an inexperienced Middle Country squad to second place in the Suffolk championship, and she will conclude her career this Sunday in the state All-Star tournament at Babylon Lanes. Sherwin hopes to be in attendance.

"It's fitting that Kelly broke the record because are very similar people," Dominguez said. "They constantly push themselves. They'll never allow themselves to settle for mediocrity -- in bowling or in life."

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