Disabled bowlers have a lot to offer in series

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 13:12 21/03/2014

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As Ali Forsyth bent to smoothly deliver a shot bowl for the Blackjacks all-conquering triple, on an adjacent rink Mark Noble was not quite as elegant - yet not out of place - on the green at the Trans-Tasman series in Victoria.

Forsyth and Noble had the same job responsibility as skips of successful combinations at the Traralgon Bowls Club even if they went about their business against Australian opposition in contrasting fashion.

New Zealand's leading male bowler, Forsyth was technically correct and pursued his bowl with authority as it gently swung towards the jack.

The legacy of being struck by a car as child means Noble's progress was more gradual, painstaking, after he released his bowl with a less flexible, fixed stance - the only option given his left hip was smashed by the vehicle's impact.

Barry Wynks also bowls with the 'wrong' hand because his left arm and leg were withered at birth; Lynda Bennett is the only team member of the disabled triple that steps out with her left leg and bowls with her right arm - though she is missing a limb.

Despite those impediments - and the fact this was their first competition together following trials last November - the trio succeeded where most other Kiwi combinations by claiming their series two tests to one after winning three straight on Thursday.

New Zealand's vision impaired duo of David Stallard and Sue Curran could only record one win over three days, yet it was still a valuable exercise as they also prepare for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow from late July.

The Games facilitated para-sports involvement in the Trans-Tasman series for the first time since it was held in 1979 and in a positive sign for the sport, they will continue to compete alongside the able-bodied Blackjacks in the annual series.

Para-sport bowls will also be included on the Games schedule for the foreseeable future having been added for the first time since Manchester in 2002.

Wynks competed there though New Zealand's medal hopes in the triple were dashed when teammate John Davies was sent home in disgrace after he sexually harassed a volunteer.

An accomplished performer in the able-bodies ranks at national and club level along with fellow Manawatu rep Noble, Wynks was thrilled that para-bowls had been reinstated.

"Mark and I don't play a lot of disabled bowls. It'll be good to get involved with people from other countries," he told Fairfax Media.

Wynks took up competitive bowls in 1999 after being challenged to a game by a member at the Takaro sports club.

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"Each year a guy would challenge me to a game of table tennis with a huge head start and we'd play bowls and he'd give me a huge head start."

Then one week Rod Matheson was a player short for his pair and asked Wynks to step up. They made the semis.

"I had to borrow everything because I was never going to play again - I haven't stopped," he smiled.

Bennett was also introduced to the sport under duress, after being content with cafeteria duties at the Arapuni club in the South Waikato.

"I never really wanted to play in our local bowling club, I made the lunches, I could never stand out in that sun all day," she said, until her attitude changed.

"One January they were a player short so I grabbed someone shoes and someone's bowls.

"It was a very old club. A lot of older members so they didn't really teach you much. You played a few games with them and that was it."

Her interest developed when she moved to Te Awamutu and by the end of 2011 she was the world disabled bowls singles champion after playing the discipline for the first time in South Africa.

Bennett, who lost her left arm to gangrene despite undergoing 20 operations after a car accident in 1989, made a dream start to international competition so was a little underwhelmed with her lead-off role in Traralgon, although the triple recorded six wins, two losses and a draw.

"It's been difficult this year because I've gone back to work, I haven't been playing as much as I should be," she explained.

Still, Bowls NZ coach and selector Dave Edwards is delighted with their development given the issues they have with balance.

"We talk to them about it, especially Lynda," Edwards said.

"We've tried to work with her on extending her backswing and getting more of a pendulum motion but the further back she goes the more it upsets her balance and she almost topples over."

One area, meanwhile, where the para-sports contingent are on a level playing field with the able-bodied athletes is the team environment.

"We've made a point of ensuring that we treat them the same," said Edwards.

His Australian counterpart Steve Glasson agreed.

"It's fantastic to have them involved. They can certainly contribute and teach our able-bodied players a lot about life and a lot about overcoming adversity.

"We're learning just as much off them as they are off us."

- Fairfax Media

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