A TALENTED bowls player is celebrating the biggest sporting event in his life — selection for the world championships.
Visually impaired Stephen Hartley, of Tavistock, has been selected for the para team bowls mixed pairs by Bowls England. It is the first time the governing body has chosen a para team for the world championships and sets him and others on the path for a potential Olympic place in Australia in Brisbane 2032.
His next ambition is to play in the Commonwealth Games in 2026 for Disability Bowls England, having only been playing the sport for about four years — another step closer to the Olympics.
However, he is now practising intensively for the world’s (from Tuesday, August 29 to Sunday, September 10), in Brisbane. The para team is sponsored, giving Stephen equality of opportunity with financing for the first time
The ex-dental hygienist lost most of his sight in an accident at work and took up bowls as an accessible sport. He said: ‘This is the biggest sporting challenge of my life so far. It’s a huge honour to have been selected for the world championships. I qualified through playing well at the Home Nations, even though I lost two and won two.
‘I’ve overcome personal challenges through changing my life completely after my eyesight was damaged and losing my job as a consequence and my marriage ended because of it all. Now I have the highest sporting peak to climb so far. But I believe that having that ‘door’ slammed in my face, which drastically affected my life, has opened a whole new life with opportunities I’d have never had otherwise.’
He is also aiming high with the Brisbane Olympics beckoning as a ‘guest sport’ chosen by Australia. This new opportunity happened because bowls governing bodies which have been urged to choose Olympic para teams.
Stephen, who plays at the Sir Francis Drake Bowls Club in Tavistock, will pair with Plymouth player Alison Yearling and directed in competition by sighted Isaac Shieh to help Stephen with strategy. His coach is Gilly Ainslie.
However, he will not be taking his constant companion — guide dog Kingsley because of the Australian heat and flight length of the flight. Kingsley will be looked after at home by Stephen’s partner Dawn Williams. In October Stephen will play in the UK Visually Impaired Singles Championship.