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Interview


Ben’s love of bowls has inspired his mum Rita and carer John Davies to take up the sport


“That was really hard to take, and I was at a


sort of emotional crossroads, where I didn’t know where I was going next,” he said. That was when the feisty Rita intervened, and


took him to a careers adviser in Haverfordwest. Ben flashes another trademark smile as he recalls the occasion: “She told the adviser, whose name was Mona, ‘I’m not leaving until you have found something for my son to do!’” he said. “Those were her actual words!” After a brief pause for thought, the answer was simple: “Take him to the Milford Haven Leisure Centre, where the Pembrokeshire Disabled Bowlers Club meets every Monday, two-till-four!” It was Jim Lewis who took Ben to the green, found him a set of bowls, and suggested he might roll one towards a jack. “I rolled it, and turned my back on it, because I didn’t know I had to watch it, but when I turned around again, it was on top of the jack,” recalled Ben with pride. “Jim was gobsmacked,” he continued. “He


hadn’t expected that – and, what’s more, it was done from a standard black wheelchair, not the green Bradshaw Bowls Buggy, which I have now. Jim was impressed, I was hooked and the rest, as they say, is history!” From then on, Ben enjoyed every minute of


his Monday afternoons, and was very grateful for the tuition he got from Jim, Margaret Devonald and Bill Price. “I was all of 19 when I rolled my first bowl and I just wish I’d discovered bowls sooner,” said Ben. At the time, he didn’t realise he was being


watched by Ken Grace, the President of the Fishguard & Goodwick Club, who invited him to


play – in his buggy – in the able-bodied Friday afternoon league. Soon, he became a member of the Fishguard


& Goodwick Bowls Club, where he played for a couple of seasons, and where he actually achieved a HotShot, but he is now a full member of the Haverfordwest Club, which is better equipped with access for people with disabilities. “The members there have welcomed me with open arms, and have been very good to me,” said Ben. “It’s great, after my experiences at


discovered bowls sooner


secondary school, to have made so many good friends on the green at Haverfordwest – and at Stoke Mandeville, too.” Bowlers in Haverfordwest have organised


fundraising activities to help Ben with expenses. Last summer, they played a special game, with a meal afterwards, and ran a raffle, raising more than £300 to subsidise his travelling expenses. Although Ben is an all-round player, he


confesses he does not enjoy playing lead, preferring the tactical challenge of having bowls in the head. “I’m particularly good at pressure shots,” he said. He also relishes taking on able-bodied


I was all of 19 when I rolled my first bowl and I just wish I’d


opponents – “I just love beating them,” he smiled. Where does he get his insatiable appetite for winning? Mum Rita was a member of Birchgrove Harriers, and loved sprinting, high jump and long jump, while his brother Joe, a decathlete, and sister Kate, a sprinter, have both represented Wales at athletics. Ben clearly has the competitive attitude of a


top-class sportsman – you can see he has what it takes – though his condition dictates that he cannot take part in physically more active sports. And that is where bowls comes in, offering him the chance to channel his energy and competitive urge on the green. He knows how much he owes to his mum, and


to his devoted carer John Davies, both of whom have taken to bowls following Ben’s addiction to the sport. But they respond by saying how much Ben has given them in return. What next for young Ben? He is the only


wheelchair bowler in Pembrokeshire who plays on equal terms with the able-bodied and, having entered several county competitions in 2013, he is determined to make his bid to qualify for the national championships in Llandrindod Wells. And he has already been approached by Jim


Munkley MBE, of Disability Sport Wales, who recently asked him if he would be available (if selected) to play for Wales in the Home Countries in Glasgow in May and there is an outside chance of him lining up for Wales in the Commonwealth Games, also in Glasgow, in 2014. Could he be part of the GB bocca team in Rio in


2016? Who knows – at present, the sky seems to be the limit for Ben Hopkin.


NationwideBowler 29


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