Vying for tenpin bowling title
Right up "sports mad" Matt's alley
Matt Bryant describes himself as "sports mad". He even named his Guide Dog, Bronco after his favourite rugby league team. So when the opportunity to compete in a tenpin bowling competition came along 12 months ago, he made it his mission to master the sport.
In a short space of time he has achieved what many life-long bowlers could only dream of - selection to compete at the national titles. Next month, Matt, who began to lose his vision when he was 17, will battle it out in the 2016 Blind and Vision Impaired Tenpin Bowling Championships.
It is not the first time Matt has excelled at a sport, having made the train-on squad for blind cricket after only playing for six months. He has also shot hoops in basketball and lined up with a rugby league team.
"I'm really sports minded and sports oriented. I don't like to fail at anything so when I put my mind to it, I give it my all," he said.
Matt first contacted Guide Dogs NSW/ACT after he had a close call with a bus and realised he needed assistance to get around safely. Orientation and Mobility Specialists taught him how to use various mobility aids, including the long cane.
With no vision in his right eye and only 1 per cent peripheral vision in his left eye, in 2012, Matt received his first Guide Dog, who he immediately named Bronco. The Guide Dog is now a regular visitor to the bowling alley in Orange.
Matt generally plays against people who are not vision impaired including his 18-year-old son. He also plays in a 'Phanton League', where his scores are recorded each week and compared to other people across Australia who are blind or vision impaired.
The only adjustment made to the game for people who are vision impaired is a pin spotter tells the bowler how many pins are left standing. "It is then my job to visualise this in my mind and attempt to knock them down," Matt said.
"For the championships in Queensland my wife will be my pin spotter. The rule is the spotter is not allowed to coach and is only able to give information about what is left behind," he said.
In the lead-up to the championships, Matt bowled his personal best score of 232, which included five strikes in a row. His previous highest, and the score that resulted in his selection for the titles, was 175.
"I couldn't believe it when I bowled 232. I am now more determined because I know it is possible," Matt said.
At the recent Orange Disability Championships, Matt picked up a silver medal, but he said the highlight for him in his bowling career to date was taking on world champion tenpin bowler, Jason Belmonte.
The champion agreed to wear googles to restrict his vision for the competition. "Up until the seventh frame I was beating him, but then my nerves kicked in," Matt said.
At the nationals, he will bowl about 20 games and has the opportunity to make the train-on squad for the European championships in three years.
In any case, tenpin bowling has become a family affair. Matt's 11-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son play in a league together and he will continue to bowl with his 18-year-old son after the titles.
He said he would never have gained the confidence to try new sports had it not been for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. "They have helped me learn how to move through different environments safely and independently," he said.
Matt, who hosts his own radio show, is now passionate about raising awareness of issues that affect people who are blind or vision impaired and the rights of people with a disability. He advocates for equal access and the opportunity to participate in all aspects of society.
Matt is also a motivational speaker for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, visiting schools, clubs, seniors and other community groups to talk about his experience with vision issues and how he manages his life, living with a Guide Dog.
His new venture into tenpin bowling will give him another tale to tell.