A TOP bowls player from West Devon is striking out for international success after being chosen for an elite squad.
Visually impaired Stephen Hartley, of Tavistock, has been selected for the high performance squad of his sport, from which international teams will be formed.
He is also aiming high with the Olympics beckoning as a guest sport, boosted by a change at the top of all bowls governing bodies.
His year has started well having been chosen for the Para Home Nations championships in Newport Wales on April 21-23 after trials. This follows his selection for the first time last year for the same contest for Disability Bowls England which takes on teams from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The former dental hygienist is supported everywhere by his guide dog Kingsley and partner Dawn Williams.
He went virtually blind after an eye infection worsened by diabetes, and said: ‘It’s fantastic. I’m so pleased. I’m looking forward to competing and to finding out who my team mates will be. We’ll be playing two contests for the home nations, one indoors and one outdoors.’
In October he will be taking part in the UK Visually Impaired Singles Championship.
His other ambition is to play in the Commonwealth Games in 2026 for Disability Bowls England, having only been playing for about four years.
He is confident about reaching the Brisbane 2032 Olympics: ‘This is very exciting for me. it might be a long way off and obviously there’s no guarantee with any selection, but this is a chance of a lifetime.
‘The Olympic host country always gets the chance to choose some extra sports and they chose bowls, so there’s a major opportunity for me to enter bowls as part of the paralympics. That’s my long-term target. I’m starting to build a good record which I hope to improve on which I believe will stand me in good stead for selection for the top ambition that any sportsman and woman has. The Commonwealth gamnes would ber a big step towards the Olympics and is perfectly achievable.’
He added: ‘All international bowling associations wishing to be ready for the 2032 Olympics need to integrate in the next three years, so that means Disability Bowls England and Bowls England become one body and form teams under the one organisation.
‘This means there is more opportunity for people of all abilities to play in official top level test matches to start preparing for the selection process for any Olympics.’
Stephen, of the Sir Francis Drake Bowls Club in Tavistock, said this move will also achieve equality of opportunity with financial support, such as international travel costs, newly available. Currently he has to fund his own travel abroad to compete internationally.