Craig Nolan, a former B3 para bowler who represented New Zealand in the 1990s, was recently awarded Para Cap No.10P.
In a long-overdue ceremony held at the Wanganui Centre annual prizegiving, Peter Belliss awarded the now deceased Craig Nolan’s Cap to his sister Wendy Stuthridge.
“I was with Craig at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria in Canda in 1994,” says Peter. “He was also from Wanganui … a member of the then Victoria Bowling Club which later morphed into the St John’s Club. He won a bronze medal in the Men’s Para Singles.”
“Katie Portas from New Zealand also won a medal … a gold if I recall correctly. in the Women’s Para Singles.”
“For whatever reason, Craig and Katie were never recognised for their efforts when it came to handing out Caps to our New Zealand representatives in 2002,” says Peter. “Whether that was because para sports may not have been recognised as being part of the ‘official’ programme … or whether blind bowls wasn’t recognised by the IOC (until 1996) … I don’t know. They were different times 30 years ago.”
“But it’s great to see this historical wrong righted. Although sadly after Craig’s death in 2018.”
To us today, Craig’s original lack of recognition seems archaic … particularly when para sports have been mainstreamed for so many years.
But recognition of blind bowls has only occurred relatively recently. A blind bowls ‘world championship’ wasn’t introduced until 1977… in Johannesburg in South Africa. And even then, only six countries were invited … and New Zealand wasn’t one of them.
The 2nd World Blind Bowling Championship was held in Leicester in England in 1981, and every 4 years after that. New Zealand didn’t attend its first world championship until 1985 in Sydney with Danny Simon winning a Silver in the B2.
Craig and Katie both won silver medals in the B3 Singles at the 6th International Blind Bowls World Championships here in Hamilton, New Zealand in 1997.
“Wanganui had a strong blind bowls following,“ says blind bowler David Monk. “But I was a B1 and Craig was a B3 … so we didn’t really play together. I can remember him winning a New Zealand Blind Bowls Association Pairs Championship in 1993.”
For handy bowler Wendy Stuthridge. and her sister Trish, the presentation of the Cap was a very emotional moment at the prizegiving at Laird Park Bowling Club in Wanganui (their other sister Andie was not able to attend).
“It brought back many memories of Craig and what he had been through to win his bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria.”
“Craig was in a car accident when he was 19,” says Wendy. “He lost an eye in the accident, and the surgeon worked hard to try to save the other eye. It was only partially successful. Craig did not know for a number of months whether he would ever see again and during that time he attended Homai College learning how to live as a blind person, including how to read and type in Braille.”
“Sport was a constant throughout Craig’s life. He played rugby, softball, cricket, squash and golf while sighted and then found new sports to conquer following his accident … blind hockey, indoor bowls and outdoor bowls. He was truly amazing with his achievements. He was determined to be independent and determined to succeed”.
“His life reflected his enjoyment of Star Wars … ‘Never tell me the odds’, ‘Do, or do not. There is no try’, ‘Your focus determines your reality’, and more. He didn’t believe in sitting around and feeling sorry for himself.”
“It was a shame that Craig and Katie were not awarded Cap No. 1 and Cap No. 2,” says Wendy. “They were 8 years ahead of any other blind bowlers. They were part of history in the making in 1994 … being the first athletes with a disability to compete as full members of their national teams.”
And that’s something that even inconsistently-numbered caps No. 10P and 11P will ever be able to take away from Craig and Katie.
They were pioneers at the Games … and pioneers from New Zealand.
The bowls community will always be grateful.