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ROBBIE BARKER LOVES BOWLS MORE THAN EVER THANKS TO FITNESS OVERHAUL

Robbie Barker and Pairs teammate 

After experiencing chest pain during a bowls match, Cambridgeshires Robbie Barker was given a wake-up call when doctors told him that his lifestyle was putting strain on his heart.

It was the start of a hard journey that has not only seen him transform physically but discover a passion for fitness which has improved his performances on the bowls green.

Robbie said: "I was always a big guy and didn't care what I had to eat or drink and I did no exercise except bowls.
"Then one day I was playing in the semi final U25 Club Double Rink against Swale at Nottingham, we had just come off the green and I was absolutely knackered. I didn't feel great at all, my chest hurt, I was sweating and had no energy.
"A couple of days later I played in the club triples final with my brothers Adam and Jamie and I was terrible, just stumbling through the game and having to take energy drinks just to get through. I was basically chucking my bowls down the green just to get the game over with because I didn't really want to be there, I felt that bad and knew I couldn't perform anywhere near how I normally can."
The final warning for Robbie was having to leave the green three ends into a roll up with his grandfather.
"I found myself going into hospital with a tight chest," he recalled. "After several hours hooked up to machines, I was told by doctors that the weight I was carrying was putting a strain on my heart and that these were signs my body couldn't take it. Basically, I needed to do something about it or I wouldn't be around much longer."

Shocked but determined to make a change, Robbie joined a local gym, where he says he spent the first few months "on a treadmill in the corner".

"I'd just spend time doing some light cardio work and then gradually started to do some weights when I felt more comfortable in the gym," he said.
"When I look back and compare myself now it's unbelievable how bad a condition I had let my body get in; I was eating and drinking all the wrong things and didn't give a care in the world how much it was affecting me.
"In terms of bowls, I could barely get through two games in a day; I would pretty much be on the floor if I had to do it and it would also take me days to fully recover which looking back should never be happening.
"Now, six years since I decided to make a change, I feel the best I have ever felt physically and mentally, I can easily play several games in one day without needing extra time to recover. I've noticed that my energy levels have improved massively.
"Being lighter and fitter has definitely helped me being able to compete in multiple competitions instead of having to just plod on through games and not reach the potential in games I know I can."

Robbie has also welcomed the difference in his concentration levels.
"It's improved dramatically," he said. "Before, during games I would be so tired my mind would drift away and I'd lose focus on the game I was playing, now I feel mentally stronger which has helped to improve my game.
"I've also noticed how much my body doesn't hurt after several games maybe in a week or weekend in comparison to after a couple of games my knees and ankles would ache and sometimes really hurt, probably due to the amount of extra weight I was carrying around.
"I'm enjoying bowls so much more now instead of struggling and being in pain during most of the games I was playing."
Robbie Barker Fitness Overhaul
Robbie says the hardest part for him was making the commitment to a lifestyle overhaul.
"Changing your diet and walking into a gym for the first time are very tough but something I learned is no one cares what you look like in the gym or even cares what you are doing in there, they are in there like you to try and improve and become fitter.
"Also, it takes time, nothing happens overnight and you have to be patient. It took me a few months before I started to see any changes in myself.
"The big thing I can always remember is that doctor saying "You make a change now or you won't be around much longer" are words that sit with me to this day and keep me motivated to continue my journey."

The 29-year-old is the first to admit that it hasn't all been plain sailing, in particular since he lost his Mum Tracey suddenly last year.
Robbie said: "She had a heart condition, it was such a shock and it affected me a lot because she was always there when I had a bad moment during my fitness work. She would know exactly what to say to motivate me and get me back on track and she was one of the main people that I would look to when things were going wrong for inspiration or guidance.
"It was so hard knowing that she wouldn't be there anymore and I had to find new ways to motivate myself.
"The day before Mum died, I actually told her I was going to stop running and she replied "No you're not, you haven't done all this work to throw it away, stick with it". A few days later I was in my room and my running bag and shoes fell out of the wardrobe and I thought she is telling me get back out and do what I enjoy and that has stuck with me to this day."

Tracey was a huge part of Robbie's introduction to bowls as she used to run the bar at St Neots IBC.
"Every time we played she would always be there watching us play and guess when things weren't going well so she would be there to motivate us and try and push me to find my best," Robbie said.
"She was my hero and watching me and my brothers always put a smile on her face. She also made sure in the early days when I started, we got to games, rink fees were paid and all our games were organised; I don't know how she did it really but she was the best.
"My other hero is my grandad because without him I never would have got into the sport, he taught us everything about how to play the game and has always supported us in everything we have done.
"I'm so very lucky that I have an amazing support network in my family and friends they really rallied around me and cannot thank them enough without that support, especially over the last year."

Robbie became hooked on bowls soon after he started and success in the county under 16 singles for Cambridgeshire only added to his determination.
He said: "I used to really enjoy going to watch too, especially the cup games like Denny Cup and Liberty Trophy, just because they always got loud and exciting. I just wanted to be involved in those types of games so it made me want to get down and practice as much as I could and couldn't stop once I started.
"I remember being part of the team that reached the Denny Cup final where we lost to Exonia, probably the best team in the country at the time. We had defeated some great teams along the way but even though we didn't win it the journey we had as a team was amazing- so many laughs and memories with a great bunch of lads which is the reason we play the game."

Other standout memories include winning the four county titles in 2018 alongside his brothers.
Robbie said: "It was a year after I started my fitness journey so it showed me that the hard work was paying off because I had to play two games over each day and a couple went to extra ends so they were long games which the older version of me wouldn't have been able to cope with.
"I love playing with family and friends and being involved in the big team games. I think it's a real honour to be selected for your club and county team because it's basically your top 16 players in the Denny and 24 in the Liberty and our club and county are both really strong so you have to be playing well.
"The social side is the best bit about bowls - being able to go down the club have a competitive game with your mates and having a drink afterwards. It's great to go to all the different venues around the country and see how different every green is, meet new people and make new friends.
"I also think the bowls community is an amazing thing to be a part of generally. The way people from miles away seem to come together and support each other is amazing and a massive reason why I love playing bowls.

"If anyone finds themselves in a similar position to me, my messages are always open, I will always respond and try to help the best I can and try and try to use my experiences to help others. I have a lot of respect for anyone that wants to make a change to their lifestyle and I know how hard it can be."


Sian Honnor


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October 2023

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