After being friends for 20 years, there's not much Sue Curran could say that would surprise her pal Bronwyn Milne. But when the para-bowler asked Bronwyn to accompany and compete alongside her at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, she was absolutely stunned.
"It's unreal," tells Bronwyn, who at 71 will compete for the first time. "Poor Sue is going to have to bring me back down to earth. I'm trying very hard to keep myself level at the moment but the closer it gets, the harder that becomes."
When the Weekly speaks to Sue and Bronwyn, they're thawing out after a chilly photoshoot at their local bowling green in Hamilton. But the cold hasn't dampened their spirits as the pair are fizzing about their imminent trip to the Games.
This will be Sue's third time competing. Now 75, she was the oldest athlete at her previous two outings. It's a milestone she didn't think she would reach as she vowed she was done after the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast. But after narrowly missing out on a medal, she couldn't resist the temptation to have one more crack.
"I always tell her when she comes back and says that sort of thing, 'Don't be so silly. Keep trying!'" tells Bronwyn.
"It's such hard work, a lot of preparation and a lot of practice, and I just decided that I wasn't going to do that again," recalls Sue. "But when the next Games were announced, my competitive nature took over and I thought, 'I have to give this a go!'"
Over the past 30 years, Sue's vision has gradually deteriorated, and she is now completely blind in her right eye and has very minimal blurry vision in the left. Formerly an avid golfer, Sue took up bowls in 2011 when her failing eyesight forced her to put down the clubs.
She was a natural, and after only one game she was picked to join the New Zealand development squad and compete at the Blind Bowls World Championships. It's been hard to get Sue off the green ever since.
"I love the competition – I'm way more competitive than I ever thought I'd be – and the friendships that you make. I've met some really great people," enthuses Sue. "Our mantra for blind bowls is, 'Don't let what you can't, stop you from doing what you can.'"
On the bowling green, Sue requires a director, who is essentially her eyes, to tell her the angle she needs to bowl and where the other balls are located on the green.
When Sue's previous director said she couldn't accompany her to another competition, she had to look elsewhere and the obvious choice was her longtime friend Bronwyn, who accepted right away. Bronwyn says she feels like she's been living in a dream ever since her place alongside Sue was approved.
"My husband has played sport all his life and when he heard that I was going to the Commonwealth Games with Sue, he said, 'But I'm the sports person in our family and I've never represented New Zealand!'" Bronwyn laughs. "But he's so proud. He's coming over to the UK to support us."
Bronwyn and Sue met 30 years ago when they worked for the same insurance company. They'd seen each other at work parties and around the office, and had always got along but weren't particularly close.
Then in 2001, Sue's beloved husband John sadly passed away. It was clear to those around her that she wasn't coping well with the grief, and Sue's boss called Bronwyn to ask if she'd take her out for coffee a couple of times a week to help cheer her up.
"He said I only had to do it for two or three weeks – it didn't have to be an ongoing thing – but 21 years later we're still having coffee once or twice a week, plus all our lunches," Bronwyn tells.
Sue adds, "Bronwyn was my rock helping me get through all that. We've been through a lot together, you know, losing different parts of the family on both sides. We're just there for each other."
The 22nd Commonwealth Games kick off on Friday, July 29 on Prime, and Sue and Bronwyn have their sights firmly set on a medal. They've been putting in the hours on and off the green to prepare.
Whether or not she walks away with the coveted hardware, though, Sue knows this will be her most special competition yet.
"I remember the nerves and excitement of my first Games. I'm very pleased to have Bronwyn by my side and to see her excitement not knowing what's ahead of her.
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