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New goal...Graham Marshall has his sights on making the New Zealand disabled team at the next Commonwealth Games. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

When he had his lower right leg amputated it “wasn’t the easiest day of my life”, Graham Marshall says

Before he had the operation a man explained to him what it would mean later on, but you had to go through such an experience to have a full understanding, he said.

“It’s not until you wake up in the hospital bed afterwards and see there are toes on one side and not the other that you really know what it’s about.”

Marshall (66, “I like to say I’m 21”) says he’s a pretty determined character and after the operation he just got on with it.

He has since become a champion bowler. In the recent South Canterbury Sports Awards he was named Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability.

Marshall says he was (excuse the pun) bowled over.

“They [the organisers] rang me up and said they were doing interviews of the nominees. Next day the guy is handing me the trophy. I said ‘what?’

“It’s a huge honour.”

The accident that changed Marshall’s life occurred in 1982. When riding a motorbike home from his job as a boner at a Christchurch freezing works he swerved to evade a car. It all happened in a split second.

“I wasn’t doing 10 miles an hour up Fitzgerald Ave.

“My foot slipped off and I clipped the bumper of the car as I went past. It just shows you how easily it can happen.”

A series of operations followed until he had his right lower leg “chopped off” in 1996.

After the operation he found he could still do most things, although clambering around roofs and climbing step ladders were not on the list. His days riding motorbikes had already ended by then also.

After the operation he went to work at Mt Peel Station and stayed for 12 years.

“I looked after the homestead and the grounds and did a lot of fishing. It was great.”

But still no bowls.

“I never played it until two and a-half years ago. I live in Temuka and a mate said ‘why not come for a roll-up?’

“So I started in Temuka, then a good friend of mine came here to Kia Toa and I came in here to Timaru with him.”

He had a long interest in snooker, once having operated a business servicing snooker tables around the South Island.

“There’s the technical side to bowls but I found it’s like snooker. You just replace a cue with a bowl. You still have to keep your head down and follow through.”

When he started, Kia Toa threw him into the deep end – the top division 1 team.

“That was one goal I had set – to get into division 1 in five years and I’d be happy.”

Having done that, he helped Kia Toa win the South Canterbury division 1 competition.

“That’s a very good achievement but we have a very strong club here.”

Then he hit his golden patch.

“I didn’t know there was disabled bowls in New Zealand until I found out they were having their New Zealand champs in Kaiapoi last year.”

He entered and won the consolation plate singles and pairs.

Next, in January, came the New Zealand open bowls championships in Christchurch, which had a disabled bowls section.

“I was top qualifier in the singles and lost the final to a guy who has been playing for 35 years, and I also got third in the pairs.”

He was named in the New Zealand disabled bowls team for the world championships in Christchurch (since postponed to next year) and the South Canterbury team.

“I was over the moon.”

Next came his success at the South Canterbury Sports Awards. It has been a bewildering eight or so months.

“Every day when I wake up I have to pinch myself,” he says.

His sights are now on making the para bowls team for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.

“If I had to give up bowls tomorrow I’d have a smile on my face for the rest of my life.

“And the Kia Toa club has been great.

“If they hadn’t helped with tips and advice I wouldn’t be here having this conversation with you. The award is as much the club’s as mine.”