At the age of 60, when many people consider taking up the game, Marlene Castle gave up bowls.
Not because she got titchy about anything or anyone (titchy and Marlene don’t go together anyway). Nor because she had been-there-done-that in everything bowls (and goodness knows, she has!). But because she had promised herself that when her grandkids came along, all the energy and time she had devoted to bowls over the years would be redirected to the grandkids.
But although Marlene gave up playing bowls 15 years ago, she’s still a regular spectator at tournaments and events up and down the country – accompanying her partner, Kevin Hickland, the ‘Voice of Bowls’ and the unmistakable personality behind Bowls New Zealand’s live-streaming microphone.
Marlene has now accepted a new role in bowls – and along with Phil Skoglund and Peter Belliss – has been appointed a selector of the New Zealand representative squad and the Blackjacks. It’s a role that she’s loving.
No one would question Marlene’s credentials for the job.
For starters there’s the numerous times she’s been selected to represent New Zealand : the Commonwealth Games in 1990; 1994; 1998 and 2002, winning 1 silver and 2 bronze medals. The World Bowls Championship in 1992; 1996; 2000 and 2004 collecting two silver and two bronze medals. The World Indoor Bowls Championships collecting a gold and two bronzes in the Singles and a silver in the Pairs. And the Asia Pacific Games in 1989; 1991; 1993; 1995; 1997; 1999; 2001 and 2003 vacuuming up 5 golds and 9 silvers.
Marlene’s been a Sportswoman of the Year Finalist twice in the Halbergs in 2000 and 2001. As well as a Senior Maori Sportswoman of the Year Finalist in 2002 representing Ngapuhi.
Marlene was an inaugural Bowls New Zealand Hall of Fame Inductee in 2013.
And all those accolades don’t even take into account the numerous club, centre and national titles she accumulated in her 20 year bowls-playing career from 1984.
“I was actually a golfer, originally.” recalls Marlene, “and I remember Jean Cooper at the Bucklands Beach Bowling Club saying to me : ‘do you want to play golf or bowls?’. For Jean, it was one or the other. So I got serious about bowls.”
And very serious. Marlene doesn’t like to blow her own trumpet, but she was just a Year 6 bowler when she was first selected for New Zealand. There was no time for her to become familiar with being a Two or a Three … Marlene basically jumped from being a Lead to a Skip after quite a short time.
But it was as a Lead at one of her first big outings at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland in 1990 that she experienced both elation and disappointment in the Women’s Fours. “Elation that we picked up a silver medal,” recalls Marlene, “but disappointment that we were beaten for the gold at Pakuranga on an extra end.” It’s one of those unique mixed feelings in sport that while coming second is a great achievement, there’s always the thought of what ‘might have been’ in the background.
At the World Indoor Championships in Belfast in 2000, fortune fell the other way. “I played Margaret Johnson in the final,” says Marlene. “She had been winning everything for years for Ireland. I remember she was a not a particularly big woman – but she used size 6 bowls. Mine were only size three’s.” But despite Margaret being the raging hot favourite, Marlene came out on top. “It was a thrilling moment,” says Marlene.
These days as a Bowls New Zealand Selector, Marlene travels the country with partner Kevin Hickland sussing out the lawn bowls talent. The diminutive Marlene is someone who nearby people whisper ‘Isn’t that Marlene Castle?’ But they can just as easily be whispering ‘Isn’t that Raelene Castle’s mum?’ such is the fame of her Australian Rugby Chief Executive daughter. Or at the league, just as easily be whispering ‘Isn’t that Bruce Castle’s former wife?’ acknowledging the former Kiwis Rugby League Captain.
Sport and Castles go hand in hand.
Although renown for her time as CEO of New Zealand Netball, the Canterbury Bulldogs, and now Australian Rugby, daughter Raelene has been a fine lawn bowler and tennis player in her own right winning the New Zealand Mixed Pairs title with Mike Kernaghan in 2009. And son, Ryan, has achieved great things in Ironman, Cross-fit, tennis and hockey. No doubt the two grandkids (remember: the ones Marlene gave up bowls for!) will follow in their parents and grandparents’ footsteps.
And no doubt as a National Selector, Marlene will be ensuring that New Zealand is on the international medal-winning dais again.