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An Inspiring Interview with John Hollowell

John & Beata Hollowell at match 

"Playing bowls has helped me cope with losing my sight, it has given me something to do."

At just 48-years-old, John Hollowell was enjoying life with new wife Beata when a chance glucose test in 2020 showed a very high sugar reading and everything changed.
"I finished work on a Friday night and thought I would be back in a couple of weeks maximum- that was three years ago now," John said. "I had to give up work straight away and after moving to a small village because we needed a bungalow, I was looking for some sort of activity to do.
"Without bowls my time was probably going to be spent doing nothing and sitting on the sofa. It has filled what would have been a big gap in my life and I think without it things would have been very tough for us. The speed of everything that happened, I really don't know what I would have been doing if it wasn't for bowls."

Nurse Beata, who is known as Lidka, said: "I brought him good luck. He was not showing any signs but sometimes I just check everything and I was checking his mum's at the time. I said give me your finger and when I saw John's numbers I just couldn't believe it!
"Treatment on his eyes began immediately and the eye surgeon told him that he had probably had Diabetes for 15 to 20 years without knowing which is why his eyes were so damaged. The little veins behind his eyes were popping and bleeding. There was so much damage and after three operations they just saved what they could of his sight.
"We have only been together for six years. All our plans look very different now to what they did."

With John unable to work, he needed to find something to fill his time.
"We thought we would wander down and have a look at the bowls club after finding their website," he recalled.
"Prior to that day we just associated it with older people but I was just looking for an activity and when I looked in to it I realised that I could compete with both sighted and fully able people on the same level. I want to try and beat everyone- that's what I wanted to give a try.
"We both joined at the same time. The first session was not very good and we thought it would be nice and gentle and easy but we came off with aching backs and legs and we were quite surprised."
Lidka added: "We have always worked 50/60 hour weeks and have been raising children, we are just a standard family which was too busy to do anything else. Now the children are older and we have some more time.
"We did think bowls was really boring and it was something that we would never consider. When we sat outside we looked in and they were a lot older and we thought it's dull, they are just standing there.
"But we liked it when we played and we have been so lucky with the club, it's just like a little family and a real community. For example, you have your own keys, you serve your own drinks and you leave the money. It is very family orientated, there are no staff and it is all run on trust. The club had never had a blind bowler and John had never been blind before because it just happened so we all learnt as we went along, together."

John embraced everything about his new sport and decided to join Disability Bowls England straight away.
"When I was younger I played rugby and pub sports like darts but I hadn't done anything in years," he said.
"Bowls is a completely new sport to me and I went full in to everything. I really enjoyed how competitive it was and I didn't think it was going to be. You have one good shot and then four bad ones and you want to try again until you get another good one. People say it is similar to golf, it sucks you in but it's frustrating.
"I am registered as severely sighted which is basically blind. I can sometimes see shapes but can never make out detail.
"I knew I wanted to be part of DBE and Visually Impaired bowls, where I am a B3 category."
Lidka said: "When we learnt that John could have a director and I would be able to tell him what to do, I started my Level One Director's course which I have now completed.
"I have a nursing background so I have always worked with people who have had a disadvantage and I enjoy helping them. With John, he didn't have time to grieve what he wasn't going to have, he joined the bowls world very quickly and I have just mingled in.
"I think it is very cool that I can be a director and work with John.
"We didn't know what was involved, we have just learnt as we have gone along and I feel very rewarded. I am very honoured that I can be a director after one year, it's a vital role for a visually impaired player. I can't believe I am in the DBE High Performance squad.
"I am a bit scatty though, I need to get better with my shot selection."

John & Beata Hollowell with trophiesLast year, seven months after he started bowling, John won his first gold medal in B3 at the Visually Impaired National Singles Championship held at Weston-Super-Mare.
"When we turned up I thought if I could just come away with winning one match in the week, that would be a big achievement," he said.
"When we won it was amazing. I even beat Alison Yearling and I thought how can I possibly beat someone who is going to the Commonwealth Games in a few months but everything just clicked in to place.
"It's great that we can do things as a couple. We have not really been together that long and we were busy doing stuff and then life changed from what we thought it was going to be out of all recognition.
"We do have the odd disagreement and sometimes you think the other shot might be better but Lidka being my director is so much better than having her just sitting on the side watching."

Earlier this month John was selected to represent DBE at the Para Indoor Home Nations which will be played in April.
He said: "That was very unexpected, especially after only 14 months of bowling. We had a good outdoor season last year and this indoor one has started well but to get the team news has just capped it off.
"I think I will be very nervous for the first few ends when I play but I am really looking forward to it. Who would have thought after losing my eyesight that I would end up being an international sportsman? This is such a great honour for me."
Lidka agreed, adding: "I don"t think John realises how good he really is. I have said to him keep playing, keep smiling and enjoy whatever happens.
"It is all pretty bonkers but everything has changed for us; one example is that John used to do all the driving and I wasn't confident on motorways - now I am driving all over the country to bowls venues.
"Playing bowls is good for your mind. I am not a very serious person so I love bowling but see it as a game to be enjoyed.
"John is more competitive than me but he is quite quiet about it. I am very relaxed, I can't get stressed about it
"You meet so many different people with very different problems and you begin to think do you know what, your problems are hardly problems at all."

The couple play three times a week, in leagues and county and national competitions and have also embarked on a marking course at the club.
John said: "The club are offering any help they can, they can't do enough. They give me half price membership because I am disabled which they do not have to do but helps as we have taken a hit financially. They have really taken us in and it is like a proper family place.
"I like that we can still go out together and have fun together and it really helped because it filled a big void.
"When we went to Nottingham last year we realised that there are so many young people bowling - they are so good and you think this is a sport for everyone.
"I would love to see more young people involved but I really like that one day you can be playing against someone who is 20 and the next day your opponent can be 90 and the game is just as good.
"We have just entered everything and we just see it all as good experience. Even if you lose easily, you are competing against good players in able-bodied sport and next time I will try to get a few more shots.
"I would highly recommend bowls to anyone; you never know if you are going to like something until you give it a go."

Sian Honnor.

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February 2023

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