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12 August, 2016

Have a go on the green

A group of four women playing low vision lawn bowls

Free Low Vision Bowls 'Come & Try Days' in Port Stephens

Following the success of the Charlestown and Maitland lawn bowling groups for people who are blind or vision impaired, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT in conjunction with Blind Bowls will hold free 'Come and Try Days' in Soldiers Point on August 21 and Raymond Terrace on August 22.

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

"Along with maintaining their fitness, from a training perspective, the bowlers can travel to the bowling clubs independently using their orientation skills by catching the bus and walking."

The Come and Try Days are aimed at those who have never played bowls before but want to give it a go and experienced bowlers who are having trouble with their vision.

Gary Edman, who is blind, and a member of the Charlestown bowling group, will be on hand to help out and encourage others to take up the sport.

Gary recently won gold at a National Championships of the Australian Blind Bowlers Association.

The confidence Gary gained from taking part in the competition is a far cry from the way he felt some five years ago when he was diagnosed with Lebers 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, Rod, also lost his sight," he said.Gary's sister lost her sight at the age of 10, but the cause was unknown at the time.

"For a long time, I only trusted my wife to guide me and didn't want anyone else to help," he said.

Eventually Gary reached out and contacted 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.

The organisation visited him at his home and taught him how to use a long cane to move around his environment.

The turning point though for Gary was when he and Rod joined the Charlestown bowling group for people who are vision impaired.

"It was great to get out of the house and meet new people," Gary said about the Guide Dogs and Blind Bowls initiative.

"To anyone who is considering trying bowls, I say just do it. Get out of the house, get some physical exercise and make some new friends."

"Don't worry no one will make fun of you if you don't do well as we can't see you," he joked. "Life's too short not to have a laugh."

The Come and Try Days will be held on August 21 at the Soldiers Point Bowling Club and August 22 at Raymond Terrace Bowling Club.

The days were made possible through grant funding from Soldiers Point & Raymond Terrace Bowling Clubs.

There is also space for people to join the already established Charlestown and Maitland bowling groups.

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

For more information and to register, please call Guide Dogs NSW/ACT on 4925 3066.