Cricket's 'crooked finger of doom' marks arthritis

COLOURFUL CAUSE: International cricket umpire Billy Bowden's experience with 'the big A' prompted him to back the Arthritis New Zealand Orange Appeal.
MIKE KNOTT/North Shore Times
COLOURFUL CAUSE: International cricket umpire Billy Bowden's experience with 'the big A' prompted him to back the Arthritis New Zealand Orange Appeal.

International cricket umpire Billy Bowden, famous for his 'crooked finger of doom', is fronting this year's Arthritis New Zealand Orange Appeal.

'The big A,' as the North Shore man calls the disease, first struck the upcoming cricket pro at 20 and is responsible for the trademark gestures seen since his first international match in 1996.

"When I started umpiring I had stiff fingers. I couldn't straighten them," says Bowden. "I had to bathe them in hot water before games to loosen them up."

Bowden says at 20 he was healthy and into sport, so when the condition started he didn't know what was happening. Within a year he was diagnosed with a form of rheumatoid arthritis.

"It hit me for six. It really tested me.

"In the end I decided there's two ways I could go about it - sit around doing nothing or accept it and move on.

"A lot of people are worse off then me. I can walk and see and I?m still involved with cricket."

He goes as far as to say 'arthritis has been good to me'. Without it he wouldn't be travelling enjoying the sport he loves.

"It doesn't stop you doing things you love. You might not be able to do them 100 percent but you can do them. It's all in the mind," he says.

"It is a pain in the butt to live with though. Arthritis is a life sentence of pain."

"There are times people would rather die then deal with the pain. It?s like walking on glass."

When Arthritis NZ asked him to front the campaign he didn't hesitate - there was 'no third umpire'.

"I have arthritis and I'm not ashamed," he says. "I wanted to help other New Zealanders. This charity's a good one and it's helped me.

"Arthritis is an ugly disease - once you've got it, you've got it for life and it?s not just old people it affects."

About 522,000 Kiwis have arthritis, or one in six people older than 15.

The Arthritis Orange Appeal runs from September 28 to October 5 with a launch at North Shore Golf Club on October 3.

Golfers are urged to attend and buy an orange golf ball for $5.

There will also be a fundraising auction to help Arthritis New Zealand reach its goal of $600,000.

Of the charity's annual budget of $5 million, only 7 percent is funded by the government.

The money is used to operate 25 centres that offer support and education to people with the condition.

Arthritis New Zealand spokesman Johan Vos says the appeal is about raising awareness.

"Orange was chosen because of its positive symbolism. Orange gerberas will be handed out during the appeal," he says.

North Shore Times