Lawn bowler, Barrie Lester, who debuted for Australia at age 23, is now in training for selection in the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

By MITCH RODD

A BROKEN arm playing football as a 15-year-old turned out to be the greatest blessing in disguise for Barrie Lester.

Some 20 years after taking up lawn bowls on account of his injury, the 35-year-old from Bendigo is now Australia’s number one ranked men’s player.

Barrie has compiled an outstanding resume, including a gold medal in Pairs at the 2017 Australian Open, victory with Victoria at the 2016 Australian Sides Championships, and a bronze medal in Pairs at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

The sporting star, who debuted for Australia at age 23, is now in training for selection in the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

Barrie, who visited Mildura this week to give some coaching tips to local clubs, told Mildura Weekly he always wanted to excel at whatever his chosen sport would be.

“I broke my arm at 15 playing footy, and that also affected my ability to play cricket in the summer,” he said.

“I thought under-arming some bowls with the old man would be as close as I could get.

“I was lucky I had some early success and I was being encouraged to keep going with it. Once I hit 18 I made the decision to concentrate solely on bowls, and through working hard I made my first Australian team at age 23.

“I’ve got mates who are playing local footy, and at the same time I’ve been lucky enough to travel around the world to play bowls.”

Barrie’s ascent to the top of the country’s lawn bowls rankings took the man himself by surprise.

“It all escalated pretty quickly,” he said.

“At the start of the year I was ranked about 17 and my aim by the end of the playing year (end of June) was to be in the top 10.

“I managed to win the first event this year and then I went on a crazy winning run, which included winning the Australian Open pairs last month with my best mate Josh Thornton.

“It was a huge thrill but I guess it still hasn’t sunk in to a degree because we’re all in Commonwealth Games mode. For us, even if we win, the bigger picture is making the Commonwealth Games team when it’s released in November.

“It was awesome to win but we are straight back into training. Lawn bowls is a sport where you will be rewarded for your hard work. It takes time to master but once you get there you can see the benefits.”

While lawn bowls may not be viewed as a physically demanding sport, playing at the elite level requires dedication, fitness and stamina to battle fatigue.

Barrie said bowls can also be a battle against the elements, similar to that of a touring cricket team.

“You do encounter different greens and conditions depending on the environment,” he said.

“I look at it in similar terms to cricket pitches around the world. Those in more hot and humid climates don’t grow so well. In the UK, because of regular rainfall, much of their season is played indoors.

“I’m constantly having ice baths and physio to keep my body in check.

“To reach the 53rd game, like I had to in the Australian Open. I can’t afford to fatigue, and you spend every day on the green over a couple of weeks. You need to be fresh every time.”

Barrie said their may be further opportunities through Bowls Victoria to get more juniors involved in the sport.

“With a sport like lawn bowls, you have to take it to the kids and show them what it’s all about,” he said.

“A large number of kids I have talked to before have genuinely shown an interest in playing, especially once they see some highlight of younger people playing bowls.

“It’s obviously not as physically demanding as other sports, and it’s quite intellectual, so that means it’s open to more people who want to play.

“Once you get to the elite level there are massive physical requirements because you are constantly on your feet and using the same movements.

“I know in country areas there may not always be the presence of elite lawn bowlers, so the more often I can get out there to help promote and develop the game, the better.”