• Emilee Adams and Christian Karatau will compete on the overseas circuit for the first time when they roll their arms on the high-octane lanes of Melbourne, Australia, early next year.
• The Hastings teenagers know even if they don't topple too many pins they'll be sure to strike a memorable pose for the New Zealand Under-21 contingent to bolster their dossier.
You could say it's not how Emilee Adams bowls in the tenpin lanes but how she rolls in the game of life that captures the imagination.
A victim of bullying ever since she entered the mainstream education system, Adams found some sanctuary at the truer synthetic surface of the Superstrike Tenpin Bowling Centre in Hastings from 10.
"I always struggled from primary school and didn't make any friends until I was in my last year," says the homeschooling 17-year-old who is off to Australia with fellow Tenpin Bowling Hawke's Bay member Christian Karatau as part of the eight-member New Zealand Under-21 team to the 2020 National Youth Cup and Youth Challenge from January 11-16.
In her intermediate years things escalated and at high school it became untenable.
She started homeschooling from late 2017. Social media, the Year 13 pupil suspects, has provided her the platform with 4000 followers to springboard into an identity of sorts and that drew some undesirable attention.
"I had some physical [bullying] but most of it was online," says Adams, who unplugged from social media for a few months to reduce the toxicity.
Dodging the venomous vibes, she found solace in a sport that struck a chord with her as she watched her father, Keith Adams, an administrator at Heinz Wattie's Ltd, play.
"I felt like I was kind of in my world, doing my own thing because it's such a good sport," she explains, seeing the analogy in how a pin is always upright for another ball no matter how many times it's toppled.
"It's not like rugby or netball, something that a lot of people do. It's just one big family and we kind of have fun."
It's the first time Adams will leave New Zealand's shores and the maiden overseas competition for Karatau.
"I'm extra nervous and I'm very excited because I'm going to a tournament where I haven't actually left the country before," she says, revealing she was the one at school who didn't make the cull for sport teams, cultural activities or academies.
The former Parkvale School and Hastings Intermediate School pupil played 52 games to finish third overall in her gender at the week-long NZ Junior/Youth Tenpin Championship which ended at the Manukau Superstrike Centre in Auckland on October 6.
Like Karatau, Adams isn't putting any pressure on getting on the podium. Bling will be blissful but bowling to the best of her ability while having fun trumps any inflated expectations.
She has tried to keep her head out of the clouds but her father has impressed on her that "this is your year".
"I haven't really had the confidence to bowl every year because I haven't been able to do the best I can do but this year I've improved so much."
Adams, who had attended Karamu and Havelock North high schools, is indebted to coach Murray Bicknell, of Napier, for the weekly fillip and support from centre members as well as mother Katrina Torwick, a nail technician.
While tertiary education beckons, the teenager is reluctant to commit to anything just yet because she fears picking a degree she won't enjoy, so it's imperative to pace herself.
Adams lauds her employers, MT Coffee, for their willingness to sponsor her after she started there four months ago as a barista.
On the other hand, Karatau feels at home because grandma Barbara Nonu owns the centre where he also works occasionally.
"With me my nan owns it so I can just rock up and keep bowling," says the Hastings Boys' High School student who won the Waitakere Youth Cup among the swag of 14 medals the Bay contingent claimed at the nationals this month.
He lives with his father, Steve Karatau, a tow truck service operator here, but is expecting mother Jenny Hollyman, who lives in Moree, New South Wales, to watch him compete in Melbourne.
"It's very exciting because I've never been able to make the New Zealand team before," says the Year 11 student who won the junior boys' national crown in 2011.
Winning more tourneys over the years, he believes, has got him more in the selectors' thought processes.
Self-coached Karatau, who is competing in an open tourney at Lower Hutt this weekend, suspects he's finding more traction because he's learned to focus under the tutelage of Jason Waters, of Auckland, recently.
"I used to just grab the ball and throw it and I didn't care much about what I was doing."
Selection to the development team this year also is a factor.
He welcomes winning in Melbourne but it's the experience of playing in different country against unknown quantities to the tune of Aussie brashness that excite him.
Karatau, who invests up to 20 hours a week compared with Adams four, has been tenpin bowling since he was 3 and the after-school routine in the lanes honed his skills.
He feeds off his grandma who travels to most of his tourneys but won't go to Melbourne.
The other Kiwi U21 male members are Ash Ball (Wellington), Ryan Julian (Auckland) and Devan Sahayam (Wellington).
Dayna Haylock (Wellington), Paige Knox (Auckland) and Fiona Sopi (Wellington) join Adams.
The HB performers at the NZ Junior/Youth Tenpin Bowling Championship in Auckland early this month:
Christian Karatau: 1st junior boys' doubles, 2nd junior boys' doubles, 1st boys' youth teams, 2nd junior boys' masters.
Emilee Adams: 3rd girls' junior masters, 2nd junior girls' singles, 2nd junior girls' doubles, 3rd all events junior girls.
Rebekah Baxter: 2nd youth girls' doubles, 3rd girls' youth teams.