‘I Feel Like My Heart is in My Throat’: Daria Pajak on Heartbreaking Position Round at PWBA Tour Championship

by Gianmarc Manzione 0

Daria Pajak says the sting of falling 41 pins shy of the 2021 PWBA Tour Championship show "is something that's going to stay with me for some time."

There is a painting by Gottfreid Helnwein called "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" in which actor James Dean is wandering the puddled streets of the theater district in New York City somewhere in the middle of his 1950s glory, Times Square struggling to emerge from the fog at his back as he looks off into the distance of something we can't see.

A cigarette is pinned between his lips, and his hands are stabbed into the pockets of his peacoat as he stiffens himself against the elements on what appears to be a dank, frigid day. There is a loneliness about him, the sense of something lost he knows he cannot retrieve, a choice he wishes he could have back. His face seems chiseled into the form of some vague grimace. 

Things have gone wrong here, though we don't know what. Everything about the gray world Dean inhabits in the painting seems caught in the mists of regret — that impossible fog, the cold rain against which Dean raises his coat collar, the water puddling around his shoes in the flooded gutter he is strolling.

This "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," as such a name suggests, is a place for the forlorn. Bowling's Boulevard of Broken Dreams is a place many competitors know well. It is a place occupied by players who bowled their way into contention for a major telecast and its equally major top prize, only to suffer some lamentable position round and end their week on the outside looking in. It is the place where Daria Pajak found herself after a PWBA Tour Championship position round that left her in tears Saturday.

While we do not know exactly what is haunting James Dean in the melancholy world Helnwein assigns him to, it is very clear what fueled Pajak's regret after the last ball of match play was thrown Saturday afternoon: The two single-pin spares she missed in a match she lost to Stephanie Zavala by a mere 12 pins, 217-205. Zavala ended up qualifying for the show as the No. 4 seed. Pajak finished sixth.

Making the loss all the more difficult to accept was that fact that, as far as the 2021 PWBA Tour season goes, this was it. There would be no next week, for Pajak or for anyone. No shot at redeeming oneself after a tough round. Not this year.

"The next time I get to bowl with those girls, it's going to be, what, five months away? To think that I could have given myself one more chance to make a show, I just feel like my heart is in my throat," said Pajak, her eyelashes visibly still wet with the tears she shed after match play concluded, her eyes still a little glassy. "Finishing the season on the note I finished, missing spares, is very bitter, so this is something that's going to stay with me for some time."

For every player who hangs on to the last spot of a major telecast on the PWBA Tour, as Shannon O'Keefe did Saturday by a 41-pin margin over Pajak, there is the player who came so close to the show she could have reached out and grabbed it but, instead, headed home ruing every missed spare, every shot she wishes she could have back, every stick she gave away that might have made the difference.

"If we had another tournament next week, it would be different. The mindset would be, ‘Let's get past this. I have no time to dwell on this because we have next week.’ But now I have five months to dwell on this last game, you know? But it wasn't just that last game. I missed a spare against Valerie [Bercier] to lose that game by like 10 pins. So there are a lot of things that compounded [those missed single pins in position round] over the last three games of match play.”

There does not seem to be much hope for Dean on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, but Pajak, for her part, does see a little sunshine burning through that fog.

"Maybe there is some higher energy that stopped me from making this show and just breaking apart, because I don't think I could handle losing a title by missing a 10 pin," she said.

More hopeful is the brighter side of the coin that is Pajak's 2021 PWBA Tour season.

"I think this has been my best season. Even though I haven't won a title, and I have made only one show, I also have put myself in position to make the cut, to make top 12s, to make top 5s, as consistently and as often as I ever have." 

And as for the bitter end to her PWBA Tour Championship run, there is another way of looking at that, too.

The companionship of besties Diana Zavjalova and Verity Crawley (l-r.) is something Pajak cherishes amid a tour lifestyle she says often can feel lonely.

"I am so happy I got myself into position where I could really make the show. Hey, the more you knock on the door, it's probably going to open," Pajak reasoned.

That door opened for Pajak's bestie, Diana Zavjalova, who will bowl Sunday's show from the No. 3 position. Having soul mates like Zavjalova and Verity Crawley who understand how to be there for one another through both trials and triumphs is the kind of companionship Pajak cherishes amid a tour lifestyle she says often can feel lonely.

“It was very hard for me to be happy for Diana at the moment I missed two single-pin spares to miss the show, but give me 10 minutes and I am going to come up and give you a hug and we are going to go and celebrate,” said Pajak.

“We know each other’s energy,” she added. “If I see Verity behaving a certain way, I know whether to go up to her and say, ‘Hey, come on, you’ve got this.’ Or I know I have to stay away. I think we’ve really learned that from each other. The same with Diana. We don’t annoy each other, and I think that’s very important to say because it’s easy to trigger anyone, especially when you’re spending so much time together.

“I was so easy to trigger the moment I finished [match play], and they gave me all the space I needed, and that is something I really respect.”

Pajak hopes a restructured practice regiment with coach Costas Mistingis of Cyprus, a regimen she says will entail throwing 140 shots per day — yes, many of them at spares — will help her step off of that Boulevard of Broken Dreams and, just like Dean in his heyday, be a star. That outcome is one the talented, rev-dominant power player shows every indication she can attain.

“I mean, this is my job. I have to try everything I can to get better. The reason I am so driven is that I hate the way I am feeling right now,” she says.

In the meantime, there will be that bestie to root for Sunday afternoon. Will she be there to cheer on Zavjalova?

“Of course!"

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