Bowling a blinder ...

Natalie Shaw
Natalie Shaw
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Blind bowler Natalie Shaw has been picked to represent Great Britain at the 4th IBSA (International Blind Sport Association) World Blind Tenpin Bowling Championships 2011 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in October ... IF she can persuade some people to sponsor her.

It’s a big if. Natalie needs to raise at least £2,000 towards kit, travel and accommodation, along with six other members of the British Blind Sports squad taking on tenpin bowlers from countries such as Finland, China and Japan, where sportsmen and women are, according to the Shaws, “treated like royalty”.

“No scrabble for funding there,” adds Natalie, from Cleveleys.

“Most sports struggle here for funding.” In the continued absence of a tenpin bowling centre locally, Natalie also makes a round trip to Preston’s Lakeside Superbowl, via one bus, one train and one taxi each way, £25 a time, to train weekly – and that’s excluding costs racked up by each game.

She has already written to organisations and media in the hope of sponsorship or promotion, but the only organisation to reply has been – The Gazette. “Although we have had one anonymous donation.”

Times are tight. Natalie and husband Andy, who is also registered blind, but has some sight, also want to send their 11-year-old daughter Marcia to St Vincent’s School, a specialist school for “sensory impairment and other needs”, in Liverpool, when she leaves Manor Beach County Primary, Cleveleys.

They already know Lancashire County Council is unlikely to support their application.

“Too costly. We’re going to have to go on the campaign trail again,” says Andy.

Marcia looks and acts like any other child, in spite of being partially-sighted, deaf, and suffering arthritis.

Her zest for life is inspirational, her parents admit, but they’re good role models too.

It’s not been easy for this family.

The couple lost Marcia’s little sister Olivia when Marcia was two years old, and Olivia 16 weeks old.

Marcia, who always slept through the night, awoke at 2am the day her sister was taken ill, and was inconsolable.

She stayed with her gran and grandad, Natalie’s parents, both of whom died within three years, to the very day, of each other, in their 60s.

Natalie also lost what little sight she had left, not so much in the sense of being able to see clearly, but a sensation of colour.

That really hurt because Natalie likes colours. “I love yellows and purples. What I miss most about this time of year is not seeing the daffodils or the new life emerging. I also used to play pool – Andy gave me my very first cue – because I could just about make out the colours. That’s out now.”

She retains an innate appreciation of colour, threading beads of many shades to make contemporary jewellery to sell at a charity stall to raise funds for her sporting bid. They all complement each other.

Natalie is 38 years old. She has been blind for most of her life. “I’m lucky to have known colours, because it would be hard to know what people are talking about if I hadn’t seen colours for myself.”

The couple, both members of Wyre Wizards Sports Club, have been tenpin bowling for eight years.

They compete in different sections because Andy has some sight, albeit limited, so competes at B2 level, while Natalie, who has no sight, is B1. “We call it bugger all – and better than bugger all,” adds Natalie.

Andy’s a champion-level bowler, although competition is tough, as degrees of sight loss vary.

Natalie, who will have to wear black-out goggles at the world championships “because even blind people can cheat!”, has no sight – bar being able to tell if it’s sunny outside.

Undeterred, she’s clocked up her share of awards, medals and trophies for British Blind Sports, who run bowling leagues for blind and partially-sighted people, and has represented Lancashire in the annual Irish Blind Sports May Games in Dublin for the last four years.

Competitions are held in athletics, football (five-a-side), tenpin bowling, tandem cycling, and swimming.

Natalie has swept the board in tenpin, gold, silver and bronze.

She also recalls how the magic of Guinness helped her overcome first night finals nerves at one event – “I’d done everything wrong by then, I had new shoes, which had fallen apart on the first outing, and I’d managed to gouge out a huge chunk of my bowling ball too.

“I played much better after the Guinness, but won’t be able to rely on that, as there’s no drink at Kuala Lumpur!”

She will be up against another obstacle – the bumpers which stop bowls running off in the side gutters will be removed.

She will also have to make her own way to the middle of the bowling lane.

“I shall be nervous, particularly as it’s the first trip I’ve made without Andy, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent Great Britain in my chosen sport. I hope people want to help me.”

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