If you ever cross paths with Jakob Butturff in person, try to get a good glimpse of his left forearm. You'll spot a tattoo that reads, "Not all storms come to disrupt your life. Some come to clear the path."
What that tattoo does not say, because Butturff is not the type to boast about it, is that he himself is trying to clear a path in the lives of others. His reason for doing so is deeply personal.
He says the tattoo results from "all the issues I've been having in my life. My grandpa passed away a couple years ago. My mom's been battling cancer, and we found out it was non-curable."
That news of the terminal nature of his mother's cancer — specifically, stage 4 lung cancer — came during the 2019 PBA Summer Tour.
Butturff's mother, Bridget Miller, had been a smoker until, Butturff says, "she quite the day I turned 21. I guess it was just a little too late, because about six months later she found out she had cancer.
"It's a bit of a struggle," adds Butturff, who now is 25. "The one thing she absolutely loves is watching my bowling. She loves watching me succeed, and that's why I go out there and try to compete as best I can. I know she's watching, even from afar. Keeping her happy through the way I'm bowling is the one thing I always want to do."
When doctors gave Butturff's mom 18 months to live, "It was a little rough," Butturff says. "It definitely put a stinger in me, but I know a lot of people who have been given time frames, and they've surpassed it.
“It’s been a roller-coaster year,” he adds.
After winning the $50,000 prize in the 2019 PBA Clash, Butturff said he planned to head out to Las Vegas, where his mom lives, to spend time with her. But he also is taking a proactive role on behalf of the many people who find themselves in his mom's shoes.
"Sometimes what I do with my winnings is that I donate it to a charity foundation for lung cancer," he says.
Charities to which he had donated portions of his PBA Tour winnings include the National Alliance for Rare Disorders (NORD), but also another charity called the LUNGevity Foundation. That latter organization serves those in need of lung transplants.
"There was a senior bowler who passed away this year, David Williams. He had a double lung transplant, and everything was successful, and he ended up driving to a tournament, getting into a big car crash and passing away. So, I ended up donating and getting people to donate to [LUNGevity] earlier this year."
The statistics demonstrate that Butturff's contribution to
LUNGevity helps a steadily growing need for lung transplantation. The American Journal
of Transplantation reported in February that a record number of lung
transplants were performed in 2017, when 2,478 people received new lungs, but
also that "the need for organs is still greater than the pool of available
donors." According to LT Lifeline, 22 people a day die waiting for a lung
The number of those afflicted by lung cancer, meanwhile, continues to stagger. The American Cancer Society reports that 228,150 new cases of lung cancer have been diagnosed in 2019, with 142,670 succumbing to the disease.
“Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women each year,” the organization reports. “More people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.”
Those are the storms Butturff’s tattoo alludes to, the crises that too many, right now as you are reading this story, are facing with trepidation. As for that other kind of storm, the one that clears a path you might not have been able to clear yourself, Butturff embodies that particular phenomenon through his selflessness on behalf of those hoping to find some way forward, no matter how great the odds.
This story will be part of our annual "What's Right with Bowling" series appearing in the December issue of BJI. To subscribe now for much more of the industry's best coverage of bowling news and incisive instructional tips and analysis, go here: https://www.bowlersjournal.com/bowlers-journal-subscriptions/