How do you bowl if you cannot see? Simple.
To the sighted, bowling requires practice, precision and prayers. The same is true in Visual Impaired (VI) bowls. In VI bowls, things can be a little trickier as we rely on the input of another to guide us and to ensure that the line up for the delivery is okay and will help you flirt around the waiting Jack. In VI bowls there are four categories for the players to be placed in depending on the grade of sight loss. B1 (for people who are legally blind and have no useful vision), B2, B3, and B4 all have players in each group of similar visual abilities. The B3 and B4’s need a little less direction form their directors who work with them, but they still rely on the guidance of others to tell them what is laying ahead of them on the green. B1 players play with blacked out glasses/Eye masks to play making it fair for all the players in the category to ensure that those who still have light perception are as equal as those that only see black.
I only found out all the above when I turned up for the U.K. International VI Bowls last week. The thing is, I had only played bowls fourteen times back and forth over the last year and to be honest still didn’t know all the rules. I didn’t know we had to play with blacked out glasses either as I was in the B1 category which is the one with the least sight, so I ended up being issued with an industrial strength black out eye mask that made me sweat like mad. It was at the exact moment that I was given them that I realized that maybe I should have prepared a little more not just show up and wing it. Playing with professionals, some of who had been playing for around twenty or so years seemed a little out of my “it should be a good laugh” approach. Oops.
Playing against players who had been playing regularly for decades was a little intimidating to begin with as I didn’t have a clue what was going on. It didn’t help that I had only worked with the director I was working with for the first time when we got there. I had also only played with the bowls that I played with twice before I got there. Adding all these factors up did not make for a promising outcome but I loved every minute of it. As the professionals around me bowled with the practice, precision and prayers that they had used numerous times before, I just opted for the later and prayed to the angels to not let any of my stray bowls cause any injuries to bowlers on the green around me. To be fair, only once did my skew-whiff bowl hit the heels of a fellow team mate who was was playing a game next to me, although apparently there were a few more near misses.
Bowling with a sweaty eye mask on is not the most alluring or practical look but it did make me connect with the game on a much deeper level. With no useful vision anyway a blackout eye mask seemed pointless, but I soon got used to my own little ocular sweat lodge. The good thing with VI bowls is that you use more than your vision for the game and use your other senses to connect with the game. You learn to really feel the bowl getting comfy in your hand, your feet take up the well-rehearsed position on the mat, you use your ever present muscle memory to recall the force you need, use the various voices around you to zone in on your own patch and listen to the delivered bowl roll away to seek the jack. When you use everything else apart from your eyes, you learn to trust in yourself and your internal points of contact as apposed to the world that most others can see. Having a Visual Impairment gives you more than the loss of your sight.
Football, golf, tandem cycling, table tennis, swimming, rowing, archery, goalball and mountaineering are all accessible sports for individuals with visual impairments. Sight loss does not have to exclude you from activities as adaptations to sporting activities that sighted people undertake can help with inclusion as apposed to isolation. My next goal is to drive a racing car around a track. You can still your racing heart as there will be a sighted co- driver with me. On the downside, I have never driven a car before and I even managed to injure my thumb last time I went on a dodgem car many years ago, but on the plus side, I will be surrounded by other blind and partially sighted drivers so we will all be in it together. Life is only as limiting as we make it so stepping out into the scary unknown can take you to places you never thought was imaginable. After all, trying out VI bowls just for the sake of it won me a Bronze medal for Wales in the Ladies B1 category.
Find new gains in your losses to really begin to fall in love with the life that is waiting for you.