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23 February, 2016

Charlestown bowlers seek new members

Lawn bowlers Gary and Rod Edman at the Charlestown Bowling Club

Get on the green

When Gary Edman and his brother Rod, who are both blind, heard about a Charlestown lawn bowling group for people who are vision impaired, the pair couldn't wait to have a roll on the green.

Never having played the sport before, the men thought at the very least the initiative of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and Blind Bowls NSW would be a great way to meet people.

Three-and-a-half years later and with a bronze medal under his belt, Gary has proven to be a natural, although he maintains he turns out each month not so much for the competition but because he loves catching up with his fellow bowlers and socialising.

"All the bowlers will tell you they don't play to win but for the comradery. It is a really welcoming and friendly group," he said.

The 10 regular bowlers want more people to experience the fun and are inviting other people who are vision impaired to join them on the second Wednesday of the month at Charlestown Bowling Club.

"Even if you haven't played before, everyone from the group will be there to help you learn and no doubt they will become instant friends," Gary said.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, the leading provider of Guide Dogs and orientation and mobility services that enable people with impaired vision to get around their communities safely and independently, established the group as a recreational outlet for clients.

"We wanted to provide local residents who are blind or have low vision with a fun, social opportunity to practice the orientation and mobility skills we teach them individually," Orientation and Mobility Specialist, Fiona Ryan said.

"Along with maintaining their fitness, from a training perspective, the bowlers travel to the bowling club independently using their orientation skills by catching buses and walking," she said.

Gary's world was turned upside down five years ago when he was diagnosed with Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), an inherited form of vision loss. "I lost my sight completely within a month and then 12 months later my brother also lost his sight," he said.

"My sister became blind when she was 10 and they didn't know what had caused her to lose her sight back then. However, when we looked back at our family history we found a line of blindness on my Mother's side of the family."

On the same day he contacted Guide Dogs, he was visited in his home by an Orientation and Mobility Specialist who talked him through the range of mobility aids and electronic devices that could help him safely move through different environments.

Gary began training with a long cane and now confidently travels to the monthly bowling game, along with other destinations. Aside from bowls his other passion is travelling and his instructor has taught him how to navigate stairs, escalators and different trains with his suitcase for cruise ship adventures. "I can't speak highly enough of Guide Dogs, they have opened up so many avenues for my wife and I to get to where we want to go," he said.

Now a keen lawn bowler, Gary said he particularly liked the games where Guide Dogs Orientation and Mobility Specialists play blindfolded against his team. "The instructors also organise games against the East Maitland Bowling Club's vision impaired group," he said.

Gary said those considering joining the group had nothing to lose. "The bowling club supplies all the bowling equipment for free and provides instruction on how to play," he said.

Bowlers who are vision impaired compete with standard equipment over standard lengths. The only concession made to their visibility is the use of directors who guide the bowler to the target area. "The director will tell me how far away I am, so I can picture it in my head," Gary said.

"Anyone can learn how to play bowls, but you need to do it consistently to play well."

Ms Ryan said the Charlestown group had been very successful and had recently participated in a state competition and would vie for others this year. Each month, Guide Dogs emails contacts to remind them the monthly meeting is coming up and an instructor attends on the day to assist.

Every day 28 Australians are diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss, including nine who become blind.

If you are interested in joining the Charlestown lawn bowling group, or for any more information please call 4925 3066.