Bowls offers a lifeline for devoted players


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Written by Katie Mead for Nelson Mail 

Players have fun and roll their bowls for the last time this season.

Walking up the steps and through the gates to stretches of artificial green, I had no idea what I was going to be walking into. All I could think of were grey haired ladies and bald headed men, wearing matching whites and tennis-like shoes.

I imagined others watching on old wooden benches and silence as one by one they stood up to the green mat, lined up their bowl and hoped for the best.

What I was in fact faced with, was nothing like the soundless game I once thought bowls was. No. The greens were flooded with people of many generations and the smiles that radiated from them were large enough to swallow you whole. Not to mention the noise.

Giggles, cheers and complete enjoyment surrounded the green. Every direction was filled with people of many ages, chatting and retelling stories.

The atmosphere of the greens was not built on the sport they were playing but instead, on being a ‘social hub’ where people come together and talk for hours on end.

The conversations were full of life, and one person who would never miss the opportunity to join a heated conversation was Elaine Hemi.

“(Bowls) is all about the people you meet” Elaine says as she nestles in her recliner at her welcoming home. Freshly made coffee is in her hand. Her over-loved dog jumps up on her knee and plants himself on her lap panting. This was after it jumping off the walls with excitement when I came through the door.

Elaine Hemi is a women in her mid 70s who has so much life resonating from her, I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t be drawn to her smile. She has been at the United Bowls Club in Nelson since she moved up here from Dunedin and found there was a women’s league she could join.

The Club has been running since 1953 and it is bonded by the love that the bowlers have for one another, as well as the sport. The club hires out the building for functions and parties since it has many seating areas, a bar and a well looked after Kitchen.

The club could be described as a place for people to gather together in and truly have fun, not just a place that people rally in after their game.

“It’s getting out and about rather than sitting in front of that square box, it’s the social side of it thats really good” Elaine explains to me when I asked what the best part about bowls is.

Elaine finds joy socialising with good friends and it is definitely her reason for getting out of the house.

“Especially for those living alone its good”

Elaine further explains that it helps to give people who are living alone something to do and to get them out and about as well as interacting with people.

I always believed the sport was for older people, but Elaine tells me how she is often invited to different schools to teach younger children the sport. There are also tournaments for Primary and secondary school students that happen during the summer months.

“I love turning up to my grandchildren’s school and seeing their faces as I’m about to teach them and their classmates bowls”

She would give them all hand shakes and hugs and when it came to hug her grandchildren they would go bright red and get all embarrassed.

“I loved making them embarrassed”, she says.

Her passion to teach younger children and get them involved is truly heart warming and it also really helped me to grow a different perspective on what I once thought bowls was about.