A lot of people think that bowls is just an old person's sport.  I used to think the same.  But once they come along, see the facilities and give it a go, they find that it can get really competitive and addictive.  It helps that we get absolution from wearing the whites!

There always used to be a bowls club for disabled people, but the guy who ran it died and the whole thing ground to a halt.  I always knew in the back of my mind that there was this fantastic facility just sitting idle right next to Musgrave.  When I went over to check it out I saw all these bowling wheelchairs lined up looking very lonely and decided I had to do something about it.  I put on a session for a few of the new guys, you know, just trying the idea out to see what would happen.  And it was so successful it's just snowballed.

It was so successful it's just snowballed

For someone newly injured, it's a great first sport to try - it's nice and easy, there's no danger of picking up any bumps or knocks.  But you are still getting out of the hospital, practising your transfers, getting your balance, picking up new skills.  The staff from the hospital come along too, it's become part of rehab, and they think it's great.  We have about 14 people coming along every month, with a mix of patients and guys who've been injured maybe 10 or 20 years.  Once the games are finished, we stick around for an hour or two for some food and a chat.  There are a couple of bars there so sometimes you find yourself staying that little bit longer!  But the social scene is really the icing on the cake, seeing people mixing, sharing stories and so on, it really adds something.  

Gabriel in his bowling wheelchairIt is a lot of work, organising everything, sorting out the venue, calling people to remind them, working with Musgrave.  And now we've got a regular tournament against a club in Dublin, with aspirations for UK wide tournaments too, all of which means more for me to do.  But I get to see the difference it makes.  I see firsthand how some of the guys in hospital have their heads down, with little enthusiasm for doing anything.  And bowls, although it's small, gets them out and trying something new.  I'm not fussed about people joining the club long term, but I am fussed about seeing them come along to give it a go.  If that gives them the spark to go and do other things that have nothing to do with bowls then that's great, it makes all the effort worthwhile.

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