Meet Randy Fred, a visually impaired bowler who has taken advantage of para bowls opportunities for many years. This is his story, his bowls experience, and how he has benefitted from this fantastic sport.
My name is Randy Fred, and I am a member of the Tseshaht First Nation, Port Alberni BC. I have resided in Nanaimo most of my life. In 2016 I was fortunate to attend an international disabled lawn bowling tournament in Wellington, New Zealand. It was so much fun.
Around 2000 or 2001 Shirley Cole told me about visually impaired lawn bowling and curling. I got to try curling first but I didn’t like it. A director held a very powerful flashlight in front of me and that is what I was to aim at. Obviously, I was unable to sweep, which in my opinion, is half of the fun of curling. I simply threw my dozen rocks and stood around shivering.
I immediately fell in love with lawn bowling. Nanaimo for some years has had one of the best visually impaired lawn bowling clubs in North America. Each year our number of visually impaired bowlers has been approximately a dozen in all four categories for men and women.
In years past, there used to be competition between the visually impaired bowlers from Nanaimo and Qualicum. Once each summer they would come to Nanaimo, then we would go for lunch. Another time that summer our club would travel to Qualicum for some games and lunch. Today the Qualicum visually impaired club is no more.
Over the course of my bowls career, I have won several provincial and national championships. In order to qualify for the New Zealand tournament, Dave Ruckman and I needed to be gold medal winners in Canada first.
Before Don Sherry (my coach at that time), Dean Thompson (Dave’s coach), Dave Ruckman, and I travelled to New Zealand, the Qualicum Indoor Lawn Bowling Club allowed us to use their facility to practice. We discovered there is a huge difference between outdoor and indoor lawn bowling.
The trip from Nanaimo to New Zealand was interesting. Air Canada’s flight out of Nanaimo to Vancouver was horribly late. When we arrived at the Vancouver Airport, we practically ran the entire mile, or so, but were late for our connection to Auckland. Air Canada gave us a voucher for a hotel room and $20 for dinner. There was nothing on the menu for less than $20.
Our new flight was leaving 24 hours after the one we missed. This gave us time during the next day to practice at a nearby indoor lawn bowling rink.
When we arrived in Auckland, we had to run carrying our heavy lawn bowls to the connecting flight to Wellington.
The hotel was great and centrally located. They served a different kind of lamb sausage at every breakfast. They were delicious.As was all the food served at the lawn bowling greens.
The greatest aspect of lawn bowling is the camaraderie. This tournament had visually impaired, amputees, short people, mentally challenged and some in wheelchairs. It was so awesome to see so many people with challenges having fun lawn bowling.
Bowlers represented Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, South Africa, Hongkong, Japan, Scotland, England and elsewhere. There were many laughs wherever and whenever we socialized.
We were welcomed by a Maori dance and singing group. Several speeches in Maori were delivered. Even the mayor who was of European descent delivered his welcome address in Maori.
After being there for a few days, I mentioned to Dave Ruckman that I was most interested in meeting some Maori people. He laughed, remarking, “You have been speaking with some Maori every day. Most of the staff here at the hotel are Maori. Many of the workers at the greens are Maori.”
I actually received an invitation to dinner at a Maori family’s home and that was a great treat.
I learned that Canadians really are too nice. I was not prepared for the aggressive style of lawn bowling played in that tournament. I felt as though my opponents were playing shuffleboard instead of lawn bowling. Most of my games were very close.
When people back home asked me how I did I would say, “I came second in every game.” Usually, their response was, “Oh, that’s good.” I never mentioned to them there were only two of us playing against each other in the games.
It was a nice surprise to learn that lawn bowling in some countries is a family sport and, in some others, even a spectator sport. The lawn bowling clubs in New Zealand are so popular they are privately owned businesses. We have some work to do convincing Canadians that bowls is a sport for all, and not just for seniors.
The fundraising was very time consuming. I am grateful to the many people who volunteered for our efforts. But, I believe if our fundraising efforts are smarter we can raise sufficient funds without having to spend many hours. Yes, I would do it again.
Bowls Canada amalgamated with the Blind Bowls Association of Canada (BBAC) in 2019. Since then, Bowls Canada has been working to develop Para bowls resources to further advance the sport here in Canada and was planning to launch a Para bowls national championship in 2020 prior to the pandemic. Help us to develop more resources and increase opportunities for Para bowlers by donating at https://bowlscanada.com/en/donate/.