Wilkins bowler plans for his final split

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In the basement of his Wilkins home this morning, Tony Guarino sat surrounded by mementos from a life spent pursuing his great love, the game of bowling. And in his lap, he held the bowling ball that will one day hold him.

"I already told his friends, 'No, you cannot bowl it,'" said his other great love, his wife, Stacey Guarino.

They married four years ago, 40 years after Mr. Guarino began a lifelong passion for bowling at the Swissvale Bowl-a-Rama. One week after they eloped, the bad news struck. Mr. Guarino, now 48, was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer.

As their life began together, they began preparing for Mr. Guarino's life to end.

They went to a funeral home last fall to make arrangements for Mr. Guarino's mother, who is 82 and in poor health, and while there decided to make plans for their own cremations.

"How neat would it be to be buried in a bowling ball?" Mr. Guarino remembers thinking.

He told his wife -- not an avid bowler herself-- and once she made sure he was being serious, she made sure it could be done.

Mr. Guarino wanted his urn to be a replica of the Storm X Factor Ace bowling ball he used to bowl his only 300, a perfect score, back in 2001. So last fall, Ms. Guarino made a phone call to Mike Sargent, the technical customer service manager at Storm Bowling Products, in Brigham City, Utah.

Mr. Sargent, who has worked for the performance bowling ball manufacturer for three years, usually answers calls from customers about what shoes to buy for bowling or how to throw the ball.

When he answered last October, Mrs. Guarino warned him that her question was going to be a weird one.

Her request -- that the company make her husband a bowling ball urn -- was a first for Mr. Sargent and for Storm.

"Right away, it was something that I knew I wasn't going to say no to," he said.

The company created the urn, and about eight months later, delivered the hollow green and red and yellow wild cherry-scented ball to the Guarinos' house. Last month, Tony and Stacey Guarino flew out to Utah to meet the Storm staff and tour the factory.

It is likely that Mr. Guarino has years of survival, said Dr. Russell Fuhrer, his radiation oncologist at Allegheny General Hospital, but the cancer is aggressive and has spread into his spine.

The chemotherapy is ongoing, and Mr. Guarino said he is frequently tired. Last month, he had to stop bowling.

Yet, in his basement, he's still surrounded by bowling balls. It's hard for Mrs. Guarino, even as she sees her husband holding his unique urn in his hands, to believe that sooner, rather than later, he will be inside it.

It is bizarre, she said, but it is so appropriate.

"He'll always be able to bowl, even though he can't physically do it anymore," she said.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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