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Annalisa Dunham 

Annalisa Dunham will achieve a childhood dream when she steps onto the blue portable rink at Potters to take her place at the 2024 World Indoor Bowls Championships.

After winning the Professional Bowls Association women's qualifier event at Desborough IBC in September, Annie faces reigning Women's Matchplay champion Katherine Rednall in the first round on Sunday, January 14. But first she will play in the mixed pairs discipline with David Gourlay MBE.

"I've always wanted to play at Potters since I was about 12 years old," Annie said, "I had started playing bowls at the age of nine and was just really getting into it when my parents took me on holiday there and I met some of the top seeded bowlers - since then it's always been a goal of mine to play there myself one day.

"The day of qualifying saw a really high quality field. My first opponent withdrew but following that I had three tough games. It was a close tussle in the first set against Jacqueline Henderson which I just managed to clinch - and carried the momentum through in to the second set. I then faced international colleague Sian Honnor and knew it would be a very difficult game.

"It was a very low scoring first set with only ones exchanged. Just managing to see it through I again carried the momentum into the second set and saw out the game. Finally I played international colleague Kylie Jenkins. We play on the same England rink and have played together so many times over the years from U25 International level.

"I started strongly and took the first set, but the second set was incredibly close and Kylie was leading by two going to in the last end. I managed to score a two to draw the set and realise my dream of qualifying to Potters.
"It was bittersweet as I would have been thrilled for Kylie to have got through, but the feeling of realising a dream I've had for such a long time was very special.

"I am absolutely buzzing to be part of the action and so pleased to get the opportunity to experience it."

Leading up to the event Annie has been practising as much as possible around her competition play. She also hopes to make the most of the roll up sessions on the portable rink.
"My main aim is to learn and enjoy the experience," Annie said.

Annalisa Dunham and team"Katherine is undoubtedly one the best female players ever to have graced the portable rink. I have a huge amount of respect for her and know it is going to be very difficult. I guess I could say the draw hasn't been the kindest, but I am so looking forward to the challenge and know that if I bring my A game that I am capable of beating anyone.
"It's such a huge honour to get the chance to play with David Gourlay, a legend of the game - and a little starstruck to be playing with one of those players that I came across at Potters who inspired me to pursue my bowls career!"

Annie's route into the sport came from her Dad, who played crown green bowls during his time in the police in Greater Manchester. When he retired and the family moved to Lincolnshire, he committed to bowls fully, undertook a coaching qualification and started a junior bowls section at the local indoor club, Spalding IBC.

"He took me along to make up the numbers," Annie recalled, "I have never looked back. I think my first memory of competitive bowls was at the age of 11 entering a junior tournament at Pentney.

"I just loved it and with no expectations, managed to get to the final, or certainly latter stages, of the U18s. I remember playing Jamie Chestney and everyone saying 'he's really good, it will be tough'. They were right - he beat me easily! However I was so proud to have got there and this was really ignited my passion for competition!"

Representing England both indoors and outdoors at junior and senior level is one of Annie's proudest achievements.
She said: "I am so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to represent my country. The friendships I've made as well as the life experiences it has given me have been priceless.

"It's hard to pinpoint one specific moment as there have been so many - but last year's comeback against Scotland in the final game of the British Isles Series where we trailed massively and really looked down and out has to be one that stands out. The team spirit was exceptional and we pulled back and back and clinched victory from the jaws of defeat.
"The presentation that followed saw our national anthem being played whilst the team walked on the green - but it was stopped half way through as everyone was on the green - however we all kept singing and completed it with no music. We were all so incredibly proud - it was simply one the best bowling experiences I have ever had."

After working for the NHS as a cardiac physiologist for seven years, life changed when Annie had her first child and no longer wanted to be away from home on a weekly basis.
She later spotted an advert for a part time job as Club Development Officer with the Bowls Development Alliance.
"I simply couldn't not apply-- the opportunity to work in a sport I love was something I couldn't ignore," she recalled.
"I was lucky enough to get the job and started when my second son was 10 weeks old. The organisation is incredibly flexible and support me both with my family and with my own bowling commitments.
"But the best part is that I get to work with clubs to try and increase participation in bowls. It's brilliant to work with the motivated volunteers who want to progress the game and ensure their clubs are around for generations to come. I support clubs to increase their presence in their local communities, connecting them with community groups/organisations, up-skill their volunteers, help source funding, and hold recruitment/disability events."

For Annie, one of the best parts about the role is watching "how bowls can transform lives."
"I see and hear regularly how bowls has impacted so positively on people," she added. "Whether it is someone who is bereaved and is lonely, it's provided a safe space for them to escape the isolation they are experiencing - or someone who has a chronic health condition and they need an activity that they can do at their own pace, I always think about how unique bowls is as a sport.
"When I was 10, I played in a competition with my dad who was in his fifties and a chap at the club who was in his eighties. In what other sport can you do this? I love how social it can be, how competitive it can be and how everyone, irrespective of age, gender, ability/disability - can all take part."

Being a mum of two young children and juggling work and sport, Annie advocates the need for bowls to be flexible in its approach.
"People can't necessarily commit to league games every week and may not want to," she said.
"I have often seen newcomers thrown in the deep end in terms of competition/representing the club much too soon. This is a real turn off for them and so potential bowlers are lost in this way.

"We need to recognise that people have busy lives and can't always spare two or three hours at a time to bowl; it's not a failure if people don't play in leagues or even become a member - just getting them bowling for any amount of time is success. Having a pathway through the club that allows people to participate at any level they want to is so important. If people don't want to play competitively that should be accommodated.
"When women do get in to the game, it's important to recognise that they may have careers as well possibly being mums. We need to support everyone to play when they can, make the game accessible and support them to play at convenient times.
"I am very lucky that the BDA are so flexible and understanding when it comes to working, family and bowls. My husband is my biggest supporter and with his job role being home based, is able to do school drop-offs/pick-ups when I can't. "Without incredibly supportive family and employers is no way that I could work and bowl."

While Annie would love to bowl in Australia, she has another big hope for the future of the game generally: "I want this wonderful sport to be around so that when my boys are old enough, and if they want to play, it will be available to them. "To do this we need to make the sport as accessible to play as possible - and that means removing as many barriers as we can. Let's not make it difficult for people to participate or create silly rules that are off-putting, but instead remember that we simply want people playing this wonderful game!"

Sian Honnor.

We'd love to know what bowls means to you, get in touch at info@eiba.co.uk

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January 2024

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