Emma Hendrickson began bowling in 1952 and hasn't stopped since. The great-great grandmother, who turns 102 on March 24, is headed to Syracuse in April for her 52nd consecutive appearance at the United States Bowling Congress Women's National Bowling Tournament.
The right-hander, who said her lifetime-high game is "either a 187 or a 189", keeps in shape for the tournament by bowling in a league every Friday evening at Plaza Lanes in Madison.
"Sometimes we take our bowling very seriously," she said, "and sometimes we just bowl for the fun of it."
"She bowls thirty-five weeks a year," said Karen Mariani, Hendrickson's granddaughter. "She takes the summers off to rest."
"I've gone through four or five balls in my time. I started out with a sixteen-pound ball. I had the strength for it. Now I use a ten-pounder," the petite centenarian said.
A Morris Plains resident since 1945, Hendrickson, who has outlived her husband and two children, maintained her own home until she sold it five years ago. She then lived in an apartment behind the shopping center for the next two years until her failing eyesight caused her to relocate to the .
"She insisted on staying in Morris Plains," said Mariani. "She was the president of the Morris Plains senior citizen group for twenty-seven years and every Memorial Day she's in the parade. My grandfather was one of the so every Christmas they come and bring her an ornament or a poinsettia."
Hendrickson is a legend not just in her hometown. She has drawn attention and accolades from celebrities such as Regis Philbin and Martha Stewart. In 2009, the same year she broke the record as the oldest participant in USBC tournament history at the age of 100, Hendrickson was challenged by Philbin to a friendly, televised throwdown.
While the hall-of-famer was outdone by the television host, she did not come away empty-handed.
"This is her Relly," Mariani said, pointing to the trophy her grandmother was awarded after her Regis & Kelly appearance.
Bowling is such a big part of Hendrickson's life that her 100th birthday celebration took place at Boonton Lanes with more than 175 guests. In lieu of gifts, the family asked that donations be made to Creutzfeldt Jakob Foundation or the American Heart Association, in memory of her children.
"I didn't want anything," Hendrickson said. "It was just supposed to be a good party and it was." This year's festivities will take place at the Mt. Airy Lodge Casino where Hendickson can enjoy one of her other favorite pastimes—playing slot machines.
Certified as both a coach and an instructor, Hendrickson said the key to being a good bowler is being able to take direction and follow it. Because of the deterioration of her eyesight, the veteran bowler often has to ask her teammates for the number of the pin she has left up in order to pick up a spare.
Hendrickson's love of the game led her to co-found the junior bowling league in Morris County in the 1970s.
"If we don't have kids bowling today, we won't have adults bowling tomorrow," said Hendrickson. "The leagues are still around. They bowl every Saturday morning. It's quite a game."