When I was 33 I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. My consultant told me that I would eventually go blind. But I still got on with my life. I carried on working in an engineering company for 18 years. But when my sight loss got the better of me, I eventually had to give it up.
When this happened, everyone was telling me, “Chill out! You’ve done your bit and paid your taxes,” but I found being at home and doing nothing extremely hard.
I decided to contact the local council to find out about the support that was available to me. They put me in touch with the Beacon Centre for the Blind (a charity that provides facilities and support for people with sight loss). I started visiting the Centre every week and found that there was a lot going on to help support people like me.
I took part in activities such as woodwork and pottery, and I even learnt how to use a computer. It gave me a lot of confidence knowing that I could spend time on a PC researching and finding out information about what was going on in the community.
In 2015 I started going to tenpin bowling sessions through the Centre every few months. It was really good fun and I made many new friends.
One day, I came across the National Blind Tenpin Bowling Association and I was very keen to get involved. I spoke to the organiser of the local bowling events and asked why we didn’t have a team from the Centre entered into the league. He said there wasn’t much interest, but I saw this as an opportunity!
I encouraged people at the Centre to get involved and to try something new. Before he knew it, I had enough people to put together not one, but two teams to participate in the National Blind Tenpin Bowling League (teams usually have between two and four players).
Everybody has their own technique. Some people are guided to the lane and turned to face in the correct direction to throw the ball. Others are able to play independently, even with sight loss.
But my technique is different. I use a rubber doormat which is placed in front of the lane. It has two areas cut out where my feet are positioned. My left foot is pointed at 12 o’clock and my right foot at 3 o’clock, so my body is faced between one and two o’clock.
The “bumpers” are always up, so you don’t lose a ball down the gutter, but you’re not allowed to use the “slide”. Each team can also have a “pin spotter” – someone who is fully sighted and can point out if and where pins are left on your second shot (they can also guide you to the lane and back).
After playing two matches, the scorecards are printed and sent to an independent adjudicator. A handicap based on your average score is applied too, which helps to create a fair playing field.
In our first year in the league, there were 48 teams from all over the UK. Both of our teams finished around mid-table in their respective groups.
The next year, we entered a third team in the league and I set myself a goal that at least one would get into the finals. When the end of the season came around, we had exceeded our own expectations and managed to get all three teams into the finals!
They finished ninth, seventh and yes, first! It was absolutely unbelievable. You couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face when one of our teams was called in first place. Some of our players even cried. It was very emotional.
To return home with everybody receiving a trophy was amazing and seeing their joy gave me a lot of satisfaction. Following this success, we now we have four teams competing.
The sport is competitive and fierce, but fun and friendly at the same time. It brings a lot of different kinds of people together and you get to meet new people with the same disabilities as you. It’s a great opportunity to make friends.
Tenpin bowling allows people to set goals, gives them a target and something to aim for at the end of the season.
If you’re interested in trying out tenpin bowling, here are some tips that can help you get started:
I encourage anyone living with a sight condition to look into Tenpin bowling and to put a team together of their own. It’s worth it!