In 16 years, St. Clements resident Norm Green has captured 22 medals at national and international lawn bowling competitions. From May 2-13 he’ll have the chance to add two more to that collection when he competes in the International Bowls for the Disabled tournament in South Africa.
The tournament runs every four years and the last time he was there, in 2002, he won a pair of bronze medals in the singles and mixed-doubles. This year he will be competing against eight other bowlers in his bracket, and while the tournament attracts players of varying disabilities, he will only compete against others with a sight disability.
Green, 69, was left with limited sight after an 18-foot fall onto his head while on a catwalk at work in 1992. Now, Green is categorized as a B2, which means he has less than 5 per cent vision remaining.
A B1 is someone who is completely blind, while a B3 is someone with less than 10 per cent of their vision. Green has no vision in his one eye and only four per cent vision in the other.
Players are allowed to bowl against anyone in the same sight category or higher, but cannot compete against anyone lower, he said.
Green won the right to represent Canada after he captured gold in the men’s singles at the Canadian Nationals in Winnipeg last year – his third Canadian title – and will pair up with the women’s winner, Heather Hanka, for the mixed doubles portion of the tournament.
He will arrive in Africa tomorrow (May 1) and immediately get to work. Over the course of the tournament he could play up to 300 ends, rain or shine. In single play the winner is the first to reach 21 points, while in doubles the winner is decided after 14 ends.
Players will be given one day of practice prior to the start of the tournament – a day Green will certainly need to hone his skills.
“I haven’t picked a bowl up since last September,” he said with a laugh. He bowled in Elmira up until about two years ago, when he moved to a facility in Kitchener. They have both indoor and outdoor bowling greens, but he doesn’t bowl in the winter because of his other passion – curling.
“Curling I really love, I’d curl all year round if they let me.”
Fortunately, the two sports are actually quite similar. In lawn bowling there is a ball called the jack which players throw down the playing green to start the match. It must travel at least 76 feet (23 metres) down the 120-foot (35-metre) green, then players each take turns bowling their four balls – called bowls – in an attempt to get as close to the jack as possible, much like the centre rings in curling.
The only tricky part is that, unlike the centre rings in curling, the jack can move when it is hit.
“You might be lying two or even three, looking good, and I take the jack away from you. Ninety per cent of the time the jack will move backwards,” said Green with a laugh while explaining some of the tactics of the sport.
“So if you get a bowl close, you try to put one a little bit deeper in case it (the jack) moves.”
Green said he relies heavily on his coach, Bill Mayer, and he said he focuses on his coach’s white shoes against the green grass to help line up his shots, as well as directions from his coach once the shot has been made to help him adjust for the next one.
The tournament concludes in the middle of May, but Green and his wife Carol will be staying a few extra weeks to travel around the country and go on safari, proof that he hasn’t allowed his disability to slow him down in the 19 years since his accident.
“Whenever we travel anywhere, we try to make a vacation out of it,” he said.