From fastest sprinter in the school in the third form to International disabled bowler and chess grandmaster. That is the unique story of Feilding’s Mark Noble.
It is a story of perseverance and a steadfast attitude to never regard himself as disadvantaged by life-threatening injuries when run down by a car at 13 years of age. Mark was attending Hutt Valley Memorial Technical College at the time and the accident condemned him to a life of multiple surgeries and pain that is still relentless at times.
Prior to the accident Noble could sprint like the wind and when he was playing his early Rugby for Petone, getting the ball to him in space meant an almost certain try. But life became about surgery every year, as his smashed hip was repaired. Bolts and plates would eventually give way as he grew and used himself physically.
Annual hospital visits continued until he was 24, and settled until Mrk reached 40 before the leg totally gave out. Complex surgery saw his leg broken in six places then refixed together. There was a long period of rehabilitation.
After the accident, Mark’s contact sport career was over so he looked to his parents’ long time passion for bowls.
In those times of austere and strict governance in bowls, he was not able to join his parents' club of Petone Central because of their restrictive rule banning anyone under 16. So it was round the corner to Petone and he was underway.
In the same way Lance Cairns bowled off the wrong foot, Mark’s disability meant he led and played with both right limbs. It has always meant he played lines much different to other bowlers.
Mark’s mother was the great encouragement in his career. She was a woman steeped in bowls, a life member at Petone Central, and and a member of the Wellington executive for many years.
Mark flourished in the game and in his early days played a lot with prominent bowlers Brett O’Riley, Jim Madden and Gil Lowry. Mark’s roll of honour while in Wellington would be the envy of any able-bodied bowler. Seeking the right teammates and competition he left the Petone clubs and spent five years at both Silverstream and Johnsonville till his move to the Manawatu seven years ago.
That roll of honour now includes 13 Wellington Open titles (embracing all disciplines and one Super Bowl), a Taranaki Super Bowl, three Wairarapa open titles, the Wanganui Open Singles, five Manawatu open titles, two National Open disabled titles, one New Zealand Astro mixed triples, one Commonwealth games silver medal and one eight nations silver medal. He was a fixture in Wellington representative teams and has played for Manawatu each year he has been domiciled there.
For good measure Mark played indoor Bowls in the Hutt Valley, winning 20+ open titles and representing the centre for 10 years.
You would think that is enough high level achievement for any person.
But Mark’s achievements in chess are also extraordinary. He had just started chess when he had his accident - and in his own words was useless, and lost every game in the first two tournaments he played. But by age 15 he was Wellington schools champion and by 18 was a two time national junior champion. He represented New Zealand in various events in Asia and at the 1996 chess Olympiad in Armenia. He also played for New Zealand in India, the world juniors in Mexico and he placed fourth at the 1981 Asian juniors.
In those times, 'correspondence chess' was by snail mail. Before the iron curtain fell, if you were playing a Russian each move took two to three months and a game took four to six years to complete. The last World Series, in which Mark finished third equal, started in 1992 and finished in 2016 so a true survival of the fittest. Nowadays a New Zealand Championship is completed in 12 months and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your home.
Mark won most of his titles before the computer era and in the 1990s was ranked in the world’s top twenty. This hasn’t stopped him winning 12 New Zealand titles, the last 10 in a row and being on the verge of his eleventh. No other player is within 10 of him.
Mark is a correspondence grand master and a Fide Master Board player. New Zealand has only produced one other grand master. Mark’s achievements are all the more meritorious when it is considered he had 10 years away from correspondence chess when son Walden arrived.
With such achievements, does Mark still have unrequited ambitions? He sure does. He's looking forward to the 2018 Commonwealth games on the Gold Coast and go one better than his silver. Stretching his record sequences in the national chess championships is another desire. He has also lost two National Intercentre finals in bowls so that opportunity remains a dream. His biggest disappointment is not the Commonwealth silver as some may think. That was a thrill and he felt he played to his best on unfamiliar greens. The biggest disappointment came when he lost the 2006 Wellington Open Singles final to Mike Carroll after setting the event as his season target. Two years later he put matters right by winning the event.
As long as the body holds up and he can still compete with the best, Mark will continue to play bowls. His disability ranking is now permanent (at B6). Playing disabled bowls is a great opportunity, but it is competing on an equal footing that drives him.
In an amusing twist, his wife Janeen copied his style when she took the game up. Like Mark, Janeen bowls off the wrong foot even though she is able bodied. She is a top bowler in her own right.
Mark can be an irascible character and never takes a step back. I get the feeling that familiar limp will be seen on the greens for sometime yet.