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HELEN WOOD ON PREJUDICE, INCLUSIVITY AND THE DRIVE THAT KEEPS HER BOWLING
When Helen Wood became a wheelchair user at the age of 21,
her whole life changed and she had to learn to live with her
disability on a day-to-day basis.
"I was able-bodied as a
child and team sports were my main love, hockey, tennis, badminton,
netball and basketball," she said.
"The thought of giving up was devastating.
"I have always been sporty since when I was
little so when I knew I had to use a wheelchair I wondered how I was
going to survive without sport."
After starting to have problems with her
health in her late teens, Helen was in and out of hospital for three
years before being diagnosed with Hemi-Dystonia, a neurological
condition which affects her left side.
After a stint in
rehab, she represented Great Britain in wheelchair basketball from
1986 to 1992 until her health deteriorated further and she was no
longer able to play due to the amount of contact involved.
was heart-breaking. I went back into rehab and it was there I met my
In 1994 the couple stumbled upon an
indoor bowls green while away on holiday.
Helen recalled: "I
didn't think bowls would be for me as I thought it was a slow pace
and not physical, but I was hooked straight away and loved it. As
soon as we got home I found an indoor club for us to play at.
"Bowls has genuinely given me a life and helped me to focus on the
things I can do rather than what I can't do. Yes, I think
occasionally that I wish I could do some thing or other, but I try
to push those thoughts aside.
"It's a safe environment where most
people are welcoming and you can choose what level you want to play
at. Bowls has been important for me from a social interaction
perspective as when I am at the club I am meeting and engaging with
people from all different walks of life.
"Another great thing
about the game is that anybody can play from a child up to 100 years
old, bowls truly is a sport for all."
Helen has worked hard
to show just how inclusive bowls is and has made it her mission to
excel in mainstream competitions. Such is her drive and ability that
she was the first wheelchair player to reach EIBA national finals in
2009 and she has been a regular ever since, last year reaching the
last 16 of both the women's pairs and fours.
She said: "I have always been a competitive person, I find that
competition gives me a purpose and drives me. I get good days and
bad days and my condition affects all my left side but I love my
bowls, it keeps me alive and going."
Awareness of disability bowlers and their needs has improved
dramatically since Helen starting playing, thanks largely to Mo
Monkton, Maggie Smith MBE, Steve Watson, the backroom staff of
Disability Bowls England and EIBA Chief Executive Peter Thompson.
But it has not been all plain-sailing.
Helen said: "There
is still a lot of prejudice but I have learnt to let it go over my
head and it makes me more determined. The toughest part is not being
accepted by some people or when they try underhand tactics to put
you off, like saying that the wheelchair is in the way.
was bowling in a league game and Barry was sat watching - I don't
think they realised he was my husband - this chap was complaining
that I was always in his way even though I was on my own rink the
whole time. He tried to say it was just banter but it wasn't.
have been asked a few times if I can re-position myself which is
fine when the jack has been moved but not all the time. I try my
best but I am concentrating on my own game.
"In my early days
when I was in a manual chair and relied on a pusher, they hadn't
turned up one day and the opposite skip said she'd help me as she
could see I was struggling.
"A couple of ends later she said she
could no longer do it as her teammates were complaining and saying
she shouldn't help me. That really did hurt and she was mortified
"I think the key is greater education. I just want to enjoy
"Teammates and friends say they don't see my
disability, they just see me and there's a lot more of that then the
said: "Helen has been quietly determined to carry on - early on there
was resistance to her being on the bowls rink, we had quite a few
comments about disabled bowlers having their own competitions so why
are they joining ours, but things have come a long way and now people
are a lot more willing to accept that Helen is on the rink.
"Electric bowls chairs have made a big difference and there's a lot
more disabled people playing now."
Helen has enjoyed a long
list of successes over the years and this season has earned a place
on the EIBA women's ranking list.
"That was a really nice
surprise," she said, "It's a really big achievement and something
I've strived for since I started bowling in 1996.
am not one for the limelight, I am very proud of myself and I have
always been determined to show that bowls is a sport for all."
former winner of Disability Bowls England's 'Player of the Year'
Award, Helen regularly skips rinks for York & District IBC the EIBA
Yetton Trophy which the club won in 2019, and for Yorkshire in the
EIBA Atherley Competition.
She was the Disability Sport England
National Singles champion in 2004 and since DBE was established has
done well in both the pairs and singles events.
proudest achievement was being named captain for DBE in the
International Para Home Nations event this year.
nations I have been involved in we have brought the cup home which
is a great triumph," she said, "To get picked to play for your
country is such an honour and we have a great squad.
comes together and it is just one team England and it's brilliant.
"Last home nations at Newport stands out - to be captain and to lead
your team and raise the trophy was fantastic.
"It breaks my heart
to think we may not have these events for much longer due to finances.
"The ultimate goal for me would be to represent England in the main
team - I've had three trials to date but it seems to be a bit of a
Helen's one piece of advice to anyone
thinking about taking up bowls is simple: "Just do it, don't be put
off if one club doesn't fit, try another one. And don't give up. If
you can get a friend involved, even better!"
Interview with Adam Rickard; Umpire at 17