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“Bowls has filled what would have been a big gap in my life”

A couple who turned to bowls when faced with a life-changing diagnosis are raising funds to compete
in the Disabled Bowls World Cup in South Africa (writes Sian Honnor).

John Hollowell was 48-years-old and enjoying life with new wife Beata in 2020 when a chance glucose test showed a very high sugar reading.
By the time he was told he had diabetes, the damage to his eyes had already been done and despite three operations he was subsequently registered as severely sighted.
“I finished work as a roofer on a Friday night and thought I would be back in a couple of weeks maximum – that was three years ago now,” John said.
“I had to give up work straight away and after moving to a small village because we needed a bungalow, I was looking for some sort of activity to do. Without bowls, my time was probably going to be spent doing nothing and sitting on the sofa. It has filled what would have been a big gap in my life and I think without it, things would have been very tough for us. The speed of everything that happened, I really don’t know what I would have been doing if it wasn’t for bowls.”
Nurse Beata, who is known as Lidka, said: “I brought him good luck. He was not showing any signs but sometimes I just check everything, and I was checking his mum’s at the time. I said give me your finger and when I saw John’s numbers, I just couldn’t believe it.
“Treatment on his eyes began immediately and the eye surgeon told him that he had probably had diabetes for 15 to 20 years without knowing which is why his eyes were so damaged.
“The little veins behind his eyes were popping and bleeding. There was so much damage and after three operations, they just saved what they could of his sight.
“We have only been together for six years. All our plans look very different now to what they did.”
With John unable to work, he needed to find something to fill his time.
“We thought we would wander down and have a look at the bowls club after finding their website,” he recalled.
“Prior to that day, we just associated it with older people, but I was just looking for an activity and when I looked in to it I realised that I could compete with both sighted and fully able people on the same level. I want to try and beat everyone – that’s what I wanted to give a try.
“We both joined at the same time. The first session was not very good, and we thought it would be nice and gentle and easy but we came off with aching backs and legs and we were quite surprised.”
Lidka added: “We have always worked 50-60 hour weeks and have been raising children; we are just a standard family which was too busy to do anything else.
“Now the children are older and we have some more time.
“We did think bowls was really boring and it was something that we would never consider. When we sat outside, we looked in and they were a lot older and we thought it’s dull, they are just standing there.
“But we liked it when we played and we have been so lucky with the club, it’s just like a little family and a real community. For example, you have your own keys, you serve your own drinks and you leave the money. It is very family orientated, there are no staff and it is all run on trust.
“The club had never had a blind bowler and John had never been blind before because it just happened, so we all learnt as we went along, together.”
John embraced everything about his new sport and decided to join Disability Bowls England almost straight away.
“When I was younger, I played rugby and pub sports like darts, but I hadn’t done anything in years,”
he said.
“Bowls is a completely new sport to me and I went full in to everything.
“I really enjoyed how competitive it was and I didn’t think it was going to be. You have one good shot and then four bad ones and you want to try again until you get another good one. People say it is similar to golf, it sucks you in but it’s frustrating.
“I am registered as severely sighted which is basically blind. I can sometimes see shapes but can never make out detail.
“I knew I wanted to be part of DBE and Visually Impaired bowls, where I am a B3 category.”
Lidka said: “When we learnt that John could have a director and I would be able to tell him what to do, I started my level one director’s course which I have now completed.
“I have a nursing background, so I have always worked with people who have had a disadvantage and I enjoy helping them. With John, he didn’t have time to grieve what he wasn’t going to have, he joined the bowls world very quickly and I have just mingled in.
“I think it is very cool that I can be a director and work with John.
“We didn’t know what was involved, we have just learnt as we have gone along, and I feel very rewarded.
“I am very honoured that I can be a director after one year, it’s a vital role for a visually impaired player. I can’t believe I am in the DBE high performance squad.
“I am a bit scatty though, I need to get better with my shot selection.”
John and Lidka have represented DBE at the Para Indoor Home Nations, won the B3 singles and pairs titles and last season won the Visually Impaired national singles.
John also won his club singles championship and reached the semi-final of the county singles
in Bedfordshire.
He says one of his proudest moments has been being selected in the Liberty Trophy and winning his full county badge.
Now they dream of playing in South Africa, but they need £6,000 as Visually Impaired Bowls England is not funded.
This means the couple must cover uniforms, travel and accommodation.
The couple have received support from Bridgman club and held a 24-hour bowls marathon to boost funds.
John and Lidka play three times a week, in leagues and county and national competitions, and have also embarked on a marking course.
John said: “Our club has been amazing – the members have really taken us in and it is like a proper family place.
“I like that we can still go out together and have fun together and it really helped because it filled a big void in our lives.
“When we went to Nottingham, we realised that there are so many young people bowling – they are so good and you think this really is a sport for everyone.
“I would love to see more young people involved but I really like that one day you can be playing against someone who is 20 and the next day your opponent can be 90 and the game is just as good.
“We have just entered everything, and we just see it all as good experience. Even if you lose easily, you are competing against good players in able-bodied sport and next time I will try to get a few more shots.
“I would highly recommend bowls to anyone; you never know if you are going to like something until you give it a go.”
Lidka added: “Playing bowls is good for your mind. I am not a very serious person, so I love bowling but see it as a game to be enjoyed.
“John is more competitive than me, but he is quite quiet about it.
“I am very relaxed; I can’t get stressed about it
“You meet so many different people with very different problems and you begin to think do you know what, your problems are hardly problems at all.”

Caption: John and Lidka have received sponsorship from Specsavers towards their appeal

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