It was typical of Phil Strang's outlook on life that he immediately looked on the bright side of defeat in Saturday's Park Avenue Bowling Club junior pairs.
"I've got two more years in the juniors, so runner-up isn't bad. I'll get it one day," Strang said.
Strang had been vying to become the first disabled player to win a club title at Park Avenue and had wanted to dedicate the win to his full-time carer, Alieta Vulu, who three years ago encouraged the tetraplegic to start playing bowls.
Strang broke his neck in two places, and his back, after falling about 10 metres from a roof in 2007.
"She asked me one Christmas to come down to the Taita Bowling Club for their Christmas party and to have a go," he said.
"I said: ‘Well, how am I going to get down on the green?' But the greenkeeper got a board and put me down on the green on my electric chair and away I went. I took to it straight away.
"Before I had my accident I used to play darts and got a few 180s, so I treated the jack like a triple-20 and went from there."
Strang now plays in a modified chair, which isn't as hard on the grass as the electric one. The chair is also less rigid, allowing him to get down and deliver "just like a normal person".
Notions of normality are important to Strang. He played in the Wellington Open singles tournament two weekends ago, knowing the likelihood of success was probably remote.
He lost all four of his matches, but wasn't bothered. As a junior he was just happy to gain the experience and looks forward to a time when he might be in a position to turn the tables. "Nothing worries me," he said.
"I mow my own lawns, I do my cooking, I do my washing. There's a few things I can't get to, but my carer takes care of those and we just kind of work in together.
"I've got no feeling from [my] nipple-line down, but I've got all my hand movements. People see me and tend to think I'm a para[plegic] and normally I tell them the only time I'm para is when I come out of the pub."
Strang is ambitious about his bowls and encouraged by talk that Hutt Valley might host a world disabled championship in the coming years. But the social aspect of the sport also has appeal.
When he first had his accident, Strang felt somewhat isolated and without an outlet for his natural competitive streak. That's why he feels indebted to Vulu for getting him out of the house and into a sport he can participate in.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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