I love sport.
There’s something you wouldn’t have expected me to start with. But I do. Well, some sports anyway. I am a great lover of Wimbledon tennis in the summer and I adore watching gymnastics, diving, swimming and athletics. I used to do gymnastics growing up from ages 6-12 and I also dabbled in wheelchair tennis in secondary school (it was hard to progress from dabbling when you are pretty much the only wheelchair user in a school in a small Cornish village).
But nevertheless, I think I would love to have nurtured some kind of sporting skill if my body had given me the chance, and the working nervous system that is quite fundamental to sporting victory.
But at age almost-31 I have just had my first major sporting success. The annual tournament is a family affair, previously revolving around a golf match (is it a match?) which took place at unsociably early hours on Sunday morning of the bank holiday weekend in August, and the women and children of the family occupied themselves with other activities for the day, such as making sandwiches and changing nappies until we all met up again when the golf was over and we’d have a big buffet-style tea in the garden of the previous year’s winner.
It is always lovely to see all the family in one place, and to try and remind myself of all the names of the great aunts, uncles, cousins removed, cousins’ children and second cousins etc (seriously, Great Granny, how on earth did you cope with six kids) and in recent years the sport has changed to a version of bowls (there are flags and string points markers involved but I don’t know what the actual name is. It just takes place on a bowling green with bowls balls so it seems appropriate to refer to it as bowls). Pretty much everyone in the family now gets involved, we are split into teams and play around the 8-flag course twice. Some members of the family already play bowls and so have an idea of how to throw the balls – they aren’t actually spherical and one side is weighted making it want to veer off to one side – but there is a handicap system in place allowing even novice players to be in with a chance of winning if they score highly enough.
But even with the handicap available, it still would not be a level playing field for me (insert bowling green pun here).
I have no muscle whatsoever in my hands and lower arms, any strength I do have has to come from my upper body, and the only way I can hold a ball is by relying on the tendon resistance in the extension in my wrists/hands (pictures to follow!). Even still, standard bowls are too heavy for me to lift let alone lob into the air (I mean, roll gracefully), so I play using two jacks, which are slightly smaller meaning my child-sized floppy hands can just about lift them. But even with this allowance, I would not be able to get the ball anywhere near the desired region due to my lack of strength, so I position myself about half way towards the post. Only then can I attempt to actually use some skill to get the balls as close to the post as I can, which is exactly what everyone else is trying to do.
I’m pretty sure my spacial awareness is slightly more ‘well-practiced’, than the average mum who doesn’t partake in a particular sport, simply because I have to use spatial awareness all day -steering an electric wheelchair through narrow doorways, or pushing a manual wheelchair amongst a room of small children and Duplo and trying not to break either. Also if I am trying to pick up a small item it takes a lot more concentration to persuade my hands into getting to the right place in order for something to hopefully fall perfectly and conveniently into my hands just so I can put moisturiser on my face, for example.
Well anyway, I am rambling. Cut a long story short, I won.
The family tournament which is in its 23rd year and is really a much-loved family tradition and something I hope my own children will still attend after I’m gone, I won. I scored 86 even without the handicap added, which I am most proud of. The coveted prize is my maternal Great Granny’s wooden walking stick which has been decorated with the winners’ names engraved on little silver shields since 1995 after Great Granny died.
We met at my Gran’s cousin’s house for a BBQ, feast, drinks and of course the awards ceremony. I knew I had scored quite well whilst we were playing but of course, I didn’t know others’ scores so when they announced my name as the ladies’ winner and overall winner it was a bit surreal. My first thought was “Oh shit. I’m going to have to make a speech”, and I hate talking to groups of people, and even more so when it involves speaking about myself. I’d much rather address the masses via computer keyboard where no one can hear my annoyingly quiet voice and see my awkward face. I sat for a few moments cleverly diverting attention to the kids who were playing with my prizes, all the while thinking “I’ve got to say something. They’re expecting me to say something. I want to leave now.”, but I managed a short, muddled and awkward little speech where most of what I said was trying to excuse my winning, and get across that I wouldn’t have had a chance against everyone else if I hadn’t been allowed use smaller balls and start closer to each post. Everyone clapped and congratulated me, my Gran’s youngest brother who organises a lot of it, seemed genuinely pleased that I’d finally won, after being close a few years ago. I worried some of the family might think I hadn’t really won, fair and or square but everyone seemed pleased. Tom was especially proud as was my mum who wasn’t there this year.
But most importantly, I won Granny’s Stick before my big brother.