The last thing Kelly Kulick could have imagined as she rolled her way to victory in the Professional Bowlers Association Tournament of Champions in January was that her historic victory would lead to a visit to the White House.
And beyond simply acknowledging her as the first woman to win a Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour title, Kulick found herself being honored as an American pioneer who had carved out a unique place in the nation’s history as the first woman to win a major championship in a male-dominated professional sport.
Kulick was invited to attend the International Women’s Day reception held in the East Room of the White House on Monday in celebration of Women’s History Month. Hosted by President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, approximately 250 women attended the event which honored contributions of women in history and contemporary society.
The event began at 5 p.m. Eastern with a speech by Mrs. Obama who recognized all those in attendance.
“Today all of you are joining the long list of incredible women who have graced these halls both as visitors and as residents, from admirals and actresses to civil rights pioneers,” Mrs. Obama told the group. “We’re here today not just to pay tribute to leaders and icons and household names. During Women’s History Month, we’re also here to honor the quiet heroes who’ve shaped this country… We honor the women who traveled those lonely roads to be the first in those courtrooms, to be the first ones in those boardrooms, to be the first ones on those playing fields… We honor women who refused to listen to those who would say that you couldn’t or shouldn’t pursue your dreams.”
President Obama then spoke of the roles of women in building America, the women he has appointed to positions of influence within his administration, and his hopes for gender equality in the future.
Kulick said there was no formal receiving line or photo opportunities, but after the speeches by President and Mrs. Obama, there was a short reception where she did get to briefly meet the president.
“I was really just taking it all in and I was looking to see who I might recognize,” Kulick said. “They might have been there, but I didn’t notice any other sports figures.
“I didn’t have a chance to speak at length with the president or first lady, but I did get to meet the president and shake his hand, which was certainly a great honor,” Kulick said.
Kulick said it was a simple and moving ceremony.
“The president’s speech was very moving and paid tribute to the accomplishments of women who have been pioneers in all walks of life and as role models we are setting the example for the generations that will follow us,” Kulick added.
Kulick’s visit to the White House was the most recent by a bowler in an official capacity, but there have been a handful of other noteworthy White House visits by bowlers since 1971.
President Nixon, an avid bowler himself, invited a delegation of Federation Internationale des Quilleurs (FIQ) World Championship bowlers and officials to the White House lanes around the time of the World Championships which were held in Milwaukee in 1971.
In 1984, AMF World Cup participants Mary Mohacsi, the late Darold Meisel, Laura Dulisse and two-time PBA Tour champion Jack Jurek met with President Reagan and Vice President Bush in the Oval Office prior to the World Cup in Sydney, Australia, where Jurek won the men’s individual competition.
In 2008, the Vanderbilt University team that won the NCAA Women’s Collegiate Bowling Championship was invited to the White House to meet President George W. Bush as part of a celebration of collegiate championships.