From Laid-Off GM Worker to Professional Bowler, Tom Smallwood Strikes It Big

Tom Smallwood was an autoworker with a dream, and passion to pursue it.

ByABC News
January 3, 2010, 4:43 PM

Jan. 3, 2010— -- Tom Smallwood was just a regular guy working on an automotive assembly line in a small town in Michigan.

But when he lost his job two days before Christmas 2008, he decided it was time to pursue his dreams -- and struck it big as a professional bowler.

Smallwood, 32, started bowling for fun when he was about 14 years old. He said although he wasn't good at the time, a few friends who also bowled drove him to get better. He eventually became an amateur bowler, bringing home trophies and amateur prize money, supplementing his income bolting in seatbelts.

Smallwood worked at a General Motors factory in Pontiac, Mich., supporting a young family. Two days before Christmas in 2008, like so many autoworkers in Michigan, he was let go.

"I have a 2-year-old, and a house and car payments," Smallwood told ABC News. "We couldn't just go find another job that paid the same amount. So it was tough."

So Smallwood made a deal with his wife Jen: He'd try for a year to make it as a pro bowler, and if that didn't work out, he would find another job.

"While he was looking for a job he said, 'I gotta start bowling,'" she told ABC News. "Well, that would mean taking some of any little income that we are getting and kind of gambling it, saying, 'Hey, I'm going to go bowl this tournament.' Well, that money was for a bill. So he always walks out the door and it's like, 'No pressure, but you better make some money.'"

Bowling was in his wife's blood, too. In fact, they began their romance at a bowling alley.

"I was bowling in a ladies classic league," she said. "Tom was bowling as well and we were just sitting across the table from each other and I actually had his phone number and just called him. ... I think I knew I was going to end up with a bowler, because I bowled myself, and you know, my family bowled."

Last summer, Smallwood scraped together $1,500 for the Professional Bowlers Tour qualifying school. The school was five days, nine games per day.

"Basically all my hopes and dreams were into that one week, because it's a once-a-year deal," he said. "You only get one chance a year."

Smallwood said he told his wife: "This is it, my last hopes, chance, dreams of ever doing this again."