When Donna Karpavicius started bowling as a kid she never thought that she would play for anything other than fun let alone a chance to compete in the Gay Games VII. In 2005, after competing in a Riverside bowling league, Karpavicius was approached by some of the participants about having her join their team in the upcoming Gay Games.

The Gay Games VII, hosted this year by the City of Chicago and some Chicago suburbs, kicks off July 15 and runs through July 22. Participants can compete in some 30 different sports at varying skill levels?”from recreational to elite. Soccer, badminton and tennis competitions will be held nearby in Oak Park. The Landmark’s sister newspaper, Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest is a sponsor for the games.

Karpavicius, a Brookfield resident who works at Prudential Realty in Oak Park and is an active member of the Oak Park Gay & Lesbian Association, has been bowling in leagues since fifth grade.

“I’ve been bowling my whole life,” she said. “My mom and grandma always took us as kids, and I have been doing it ever since.”

Despite her lengthy experience with bowling Karpavicius has never taken it too seriously.

“I have been bowling in leagues for 15-20 years for fun, but never professionally,” she said.

Her high score is a 228, and 10 or 15 years ago she had the high average in one of the leagues she competed in. She has never personally won any tournaments; her average was 168 when she was at her best, and is now a 140.

Those are by no means the stats of a professional bowler looking to make it big, but Karpavicius says she bowls for other reasons.

“I want to do it for fun,” she said.

Karpavicius is taking that attitude with her as she prepares for the upcoming games.

“We want to make sure we have a good time more than anything and meet good people from all over,” she said.

Karpavicius and her teammates will have their chance to do just that as there will be more than 12,000 athletes from all over the world coming to compete at the games in Chicago.

“I’ve never been to a Gay Games before and I’m excited to see the games in the Chicago area,” she said.

Working in Oak Park for the last 10 years, five of which with Prudential, Karpavicius is also looking forward to the business that the Gay Games will bring to the area.

“I’m hoping the games bring great business to Oak Park,” she said. “It would be an added benefit.”

Despite never having attended a Gay Games, Karpavicius feels that it is a positive step for gays and lesbians.

“I think that the games are a good thing, because gay people all over the world can come together and have fun at an event,” she said. “They also show that gay people have a variety of interests and talents such as competing in sports. It’s more than just what you see at the gay pride parade.”

Karpavicius also said she likes the fact that the games are not exclusively for gay people.

“It gives straight people a chance to see and participate with gays and lesbians in sports, an area that gay and straight people worldwide have a common interest in,” she added.

Karpavicius and her three teammates will begin their bowling competition in group play at the Waveland Bowl, 3700 N. Western Ave. in Chicago on July 16. The teams will be grouped by average, and if they bowl well in group play, they will advance on to the elimination round. At this point, Karpavicius said it’s tough to tell just how the team will fare.

“I’m not sure how we’ll do,” she said. “We’re a new team, and we’re not exactly sure how it will be set up, so it’s uncertain how we’ll do in group play.”

Despite a number of uncertainties Karpavicius is sure of one thing.

“I just hope we bowl well and have a good time; I’m looking forward to it.”