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Time with the Bonsalls

A start to this story is to explain where it began. I played in my last British Isles event in Chelmsford back in 2019. There I was introduced to a lovely young girl who had a great impact on me. I saw in her the enthusiasm for the sport both playing and competing on the rink, and organising and volunteering off the rink, I had myself back in the day (writes Janice Gower).

Since then, three things have happened. Firstly, that girl had grown up into a beautiful, in looks and heart, young woman.
Secondly, she got married to an amazing young man.
And thirdly, and most importantly to me, has become a good friend.
If ever I was to pick a bowl up to do battle again, I would be delighted to compete with this young woman, though I think I would be part of a very long queue. Josh and Catherine led the instrumental committee who produced a much accoladed and successful Island Games last July.
I was proud to be part of this event, leading the commentary and covering the bowls press, for the event. To see how much work these two put in off the rink, then to watch them fly to the changing rooms to quickly get changed into bowls kit and go on to both pick up gold medals on the rink, well it was truly amazing.
Therefore, I was delighted when Bowls International asked me if I would conduct an interview with two of the rising stars of Guernsey Indoor Bowls – Catherine (nee Snell) (age23) and Josh Bonsall (age25).
So here is an insight into two impressive young bowlers.

JG: What age did you start bowling
and why?
CB: I started aged eight. My parents wanted to find me a sport that I would gel with. I wasn’t a particularly sporty child, although I did have other hobbies, which I then one by one stopped in favour of bowls! My mum worked with the son of the coach who ran the juniors at the time, and so I ended up at an open morning to try it out.
JB: I started bowling at age eight too. With bad hayfever as a child, it was the perfect sport away from grass and trees – it was also a sport that was mentally rather than physically challenging which appealed. The whole game is about concentration, and you can always get better and closer.

JG: What influence were your parents on your bowling career?
CB: My parents have always supported me playing bowls, allowing me to travel to play when I was younger and celebrating my wins. They don’t play themselves, but they make the effort to come down for big competitions like the Island Games and our Channel Island finals, which I really appreciate.
JB: Neither of my parents bowl, however, my mum was very keen to get me into the sport and supported me throughout my earlier years. My dad was less keen given the stigma around bowls and to be honest would have preferred me not to bowl as a child, so I did try some other sports like golf and table tennis. Now that the perception of bowls in the island and more widely has improved, he is a great supporter of what I do within the sport and the progress I have
been making.

JG: Did you meet through bowls?
CB: We did. We often ended up paired together for our junior competitions – it’s like it was fate! I’m very glad that we’re both still playing and involved. I couldn’t do what I do without Josh supporting me, plus we’d never see each other if we had different hobbies with the amount of time we spend at the club!
JB: Yes, we were paired together frequently as juniors and got to know each other over the years. It’s a small island and an even smaller bowls club so you get to know everyone fairly well.

JG: What other sports do you follow?
CB: We watch a lot of sports when we have the time. We’re into darts, snooker and F1, the occasional Match of the Day and the cricket hundred (test matches are too long for me
to concentrate!)
JB: We like to watch a variety of sport, but don’t really have the time to follow another sport closely.

JG: How does your job fit in with your sport?
CB: I wouldn’t say my job fits in with my sport necessarily, but they are very supportive and allow me to take holiday when I need to travel to play which is great. I’m currently able to balance work and bowls well in terms of carrying on leagues in the evenings while progressing in my career. I have learnt a lot through my job that help me with my role as secretary at the club, which is very handy.
JB: It fits in very well. My employer is very supportive of what I do within bowls and supports time off for my trips away. I work for a lender, so I am constantly assessing the risks associated with a transaction. Bowls isn’t dissimilar; it’s all about taking calculated risks and considering the outcomes of the decisions you make whilst keeping a cool head and working/bowling well under pressure.

JG: Have you got a sporting hero and if so who and why?
CB: I’m not sure I have ever considered who my sporting hero would be. When I was younger, I definitely looked up to Ali Merrien MBE having achieved everything she has I would love to follow that. Any sportsperson from Guernsey I am really invested in because I love seeing our tiny island on a global map, and that the island doesn’t restrict what we can achieve.
JB: No I don’t think I do. I respect a lot of sports people and the work it has taken to get themselves to that level but behind each person is a network of people who have enabled this. Having the dedication to support someone without being the hero yourself is worth similar admiration.

JG: What influence has having Ali Merrien MBE and Lucy Beere MBE as bowlers from Guernsey, who have achieved so much, have on you?
CB: It’s great to see other women from Guernsey reaching such high levels on a global stage. I’m quite close with Ali, and she’s a great mentor to have around and play against to push me to improve, but also to play in a team with, having that direction from her is really valuable. Ali and Lucy both having achieved their MBEs is really great for the sport, and I would love to make my mark and help progress our sport like they do in the future.
JB: Having both Ali and Lucy in the media locally raises the profile of the sport. It shows that really anyone from anywhere can, if they have the talent, rise to the top. It’s a great inspiration for bowlers in Guernsey and encourages us to play to our highest level. It places such a small island on the world map and I’m hopefully we can use that to our advantage to grow the sport.

JG: You are heavily involved with running your club at such a young age. Were you coerced or willing volunteers?
CB: Josh and I are quite similar in the fact that we can’t willingly let someone down when something needs to be done. I started first by taking over the junior section when the previous coach became unwell, and we slowly progressed into being council members and now directors of the club. I hold the position of secretary. I have also completed my umpire course to become a qualified umpire. We’re definitely ‘willing volunteers’ in relation to big projects, like the Island Games and World Bowls. I love seeing a plan come together and everyone (hopefully) enjoying what we’ve helped set-up!
JB: I have always understood that any event or activity has someone who has put the time and effort into running it. As I became an older junior, I appreciated the effort the coaches put into running our bowls sessions, so I started to help coach the younger juniors. I then took a position within our club council when I turned 18 and the following year took over from our fixture secretary. I then went on to complete an umpire’s course, coaching course and stepped up to lead our team for running the Island Games and have continued this success into helping organise the World Bowls Indoor Championships in April 2024.

JG: How do you see your future in bowls?
CB: I hope that we both continue progressing, but also managing our volunteering so we’re not burnt out. I would love to continue both playing and volunteering as long as I can. The first step for me from a playing perspective is improving against some of the other top women in Guernsey, and hopefully winning some more island, then Channel Island titles, to go on to bigger things.
JB: I’m playing well at the moment and I would like to continue to play competitively but I also appreciate that if I want the sport to grow within the island, I will have to make a decision between concentrating on my game or concentrating on running the club and raising the profile of the sport. I’m not a natural bowler and therefore to play at a high standard takes a lot of work so I suspect my future will be in the administration of the game rather than playing at a high level – but I wouldn’t mind proving myself wrong!

JG: Which achievement are you most proud of to date?
CB: I’m really proud of all my achievements, but I think my Under 25 world bronze from the 2023 championships is one of my most proud. I never went into the event expecting anything from it. I had never previously qualified out of the group stages, so to then get into the semi-final and win my bronze was just amazing. If I can mention a close second though, winning our triples gold medal in the Guernsey Island Games in 2023 was incredible. Having the home support behind us and it being the first Island Games, including indoor bowls in 18 years was something really special.
JB: Having played at World Under 25s, British Isles and overseas test matches, I am most proud of who I have played against. It’s very satisfying to see those people doing so well and thinking to myself that I’ve played them or played in the same competition as them and while I probably haven’t beaten them, giving them a good game is an achievement in itself. I think it’s genuinely an achievement that the club functions, people appear happy and we’re looking to progress onto bigger and better things. Hosting the Island Games was a massive success and achievement and the new bowlers we have seen out of this is really great.
It’s always interesting to me the motivation and background to the bowlers we meet.
I’m sure you will agree, Josh and Catherine are two amazing individuals and a fantastic couple. Their enthusiasm and ambition for the game of bowls should be commended and hopefully will secure Guernsey indoors bowls’ future.
I for one hope so as I’m actually a member of Guernsey Indoor Bowls Club.

Caption: Catherine and Josh at the 2023 Island Games

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