Real Life

We’re under 30 – and New Zealand lawn bowls champions

These young women are shaking up the popular sport.

It might be fair to say lawn bowls has enjoyed a genteel image – but a younger generation whom you’d expect to love gangster rap rather than Gracie Fields is changing that.

As the World Bowls Championships hits Christchurch (from November 29 to December 11), a talented five-strong women’s Blackjacks team will contain three players aged 30 and under.

And if the age of the team members may surprise you for a sport usually associated with older women in long pleated skirts, then Katelyn Inch’s choice of motivational music before a match might also shake your perception of bowls.

“I do have a giggle sometimes because when I’m playing Eminen’s Lose Yourself on my headphones before a game, I wonder what some of the older players think of me,” says Katelyn (21), the youngest member of the Blackjacks squad gunning for medals in the sport’s flagship event.

Blackjacks Angela (left) and Katelyn have made firm friendships through bowls.

Katelyn, alongside Kirsten Edwards (25) and Angela Boyd (30) represent the rising younger generation of a sport slowly shedding its former image.

All three were introduced to bowls early. Kirsten through her mother Leigh, a two-time national champion; Katelyn through her father; and Angela via both of her parents.

Angela, a Christchurch-based childcare teacher, quickly enjoyed the friendliness and sense of camaraderie of the lawn bowls community.

Although she admits she did face the occasional raised eyebrow at her choice of sport.

“While my family and most of my friends knew about my background in bowls, when I met other people they were like, ‘Oh, bowls,’” says Angela. “But I said, no, the image of the sport is changing. It is a young person’s sport.

“It is seen now as a cool activity,” she insists. “I’ve made friends for life and it has also given me the chance to travel.”

Katelyn admits her mates have also occasionally given her stick about her passion for lawn bowls.

“They have laughed at me going along to the bowls club with my cups of tea – and I copped a lot of abuse for once playing with one of my friend’s grandmas,” she laughs.

“Yet when they come and watch me play, they are so supportive and they realise it is not just for old folk.”

Nelson-based Kirsten, who married husband Ricky in April this year, is fully committed to the game, even if she has to make sacrifices.

“When I was younger, many people I knew would go away for New Year and I would be playing bowls at the nationals, which could be hard,” she explains. “But to be honest, I loved playing the game and many of my friends play socially so it was no real sacrifice.”

In another surprising departure from the perception of the game, modern players have to observe a strict fitness regime to withstand the demands of hours on their feet during the heat of competition, plus the mental challenges associated with the game.

Talent for lawn bowls runs in Kirsten’s family – her mother Leigh was a two-time national champion.

“I do my own fitness programme, combined with healthy eating, which is part of the whole package,” explains Angela. “I work full-time but I try to make sure I have four or five good fitness sessions per week.”

Despite the trio all helping to usher in a new impression of the sport, they all have huge admiration for the two remaining members of the Blackjacks team – Commonwealth Games bowls singles champion Jo Edwards and double world champion Val Smith.

“Ask any of the young players who they look up to and they’ll say Jo and Val,” tells Kirsten. “The pair are absolute icons of the sport and they love dipping in and out of our conversations.”

In fact, as Katelyn adds, another unifying element to bowls is that it is a sport that people of all ages can play and enjoy together.

“I find playing bowls helps to introduce you to so many people you otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to,” she says. “It is amazing to talk to a whole other generation. I’ve learned a lot of etiquette from older people.”

When the trio hit the greens of Christchurch in pursuit of medals this month, their focus will be on delivering for their country and Kirsten has a very simple message.

“Playing bowls has allowed me to make lifelong friendships and travel to so many places,” she tells. “I like the fact if you work hard, you get the rewards.”

Angela echoes this, adding, “I’d encourage people to give it a go. I love the challenge of the sport. It is great to set goals, strive for something and achieve them. And it is a lot of fun.”

Words: Steve Lindells

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