Now it seems like ancient history, but I can recall my first outing with juniors from England as if it were yesterday.
I was very young to be skipping at 15 and was incredibly anxious, but I couldn't have been accepted more, and I was made to feel relaxed with Rachel Chedgzoy leading, Sharon Hopkins slotting in second, and Lynne Whitehead at number three on my side.
The year before, I met Lynne at Skegness the year before, and she's so sweet - so why, almost 30 years later, we're still very good friends. After a few finishes, I was completely settled and we went on to play together with a very good record for many a year.
One of the most memorable times on the green was in Wales, where we needed a certain number of shots to defeat Ireland to retain the title.
On the green, we were the last rink (which is most odd for my rink - we're typically pretty sharp) and we played a good Irish rink with some of the players in the current senior team in Ireland.
As the master scoreboards were not in use at that moment, we didn't quite know how many shots we wanted.
We got a 'get as many shots as you can' message-very helpful, but we did what we could do.
By this point, as well as our own team, the Scottish team had crowded the end of the rink, we kept a handful as I went to the bowl and I'll never forget the pressure, I think I was short (not unusual!)
The opposition skip, however, had a bowl to play, as it was, and she had to get a fourth bowl to ensure that Scotland became champions. With a knife, you might have cut the stress.
Luckily for us, when she delivered some of the Scots got on the green and almost tried to drive her bowl in, it was a shade short for us and I was glad I didn't have to play the last bowl. We have won a series!
I was picked to play in the senior international team back in 1999. What a huge shock it was—and an incredible honor.
I wasn't sure how I would be received, but all were incredibly supportive of the whole.
The only problem I had was that I had a blazer given to me by Nancie Colling that had an international badge on the blazer.
Before your first game, the badge was not meant to be sewn on. So I had to pin my county badge above the top and then I was able to take it off after the game. This was one of the problems that initially caused a little stir, as I believe people thought I had sewn it on too early.
Currently, two years ago, Nancie had given me a blazer because I had to wear a uniform in England to go to Buckingham Palace. That was WONDERFUL!
My mom and dad and I, the three of us, went down to London together, but dad walked into the palace with me at the reception, while mom remained in the hotel eagerly awaiting the stories.
This was a time long before cell phones, let alone selfies, were popular, so I took my autograph book with me.
I met Lennox Lewis, Chris Eubank, Prince Naseem and many others, but the real highlight for me was the arrival of Her Majesty the Queen, accompanied by a gentleman who told us of the protocol, which included not attempting to shake her hand.
She looked at me and the blazer of my royal blue bowls, a three-quarter skirt, a white hat and brown bowl shoes, and she said, 'Oh, I see you're a bowler,' I didn't really know what to say except, 'Yeah!'
She went on fast, as you might guess, but it was amazing and something that will stick with me forever.
It was straight off when we had the nod from Nancie Mine, but after a few minutes, I looked around and noticed that others still had them on. I couldn't really understand why more players didn't automatically whip them off, then I remembered that just because you CAN didn't mean you SHOULD. It all worked out perfectly and there were more and more of us playing without it.
There was a common unwritten rule about wearing a suit or dress for dinner at night, I didn't even own a skirt when I stepped into the team, and the last dress I wore was when I was a bridesmaid, so I had to quickly find one.
Fortunately, again, this tradition lasted for about a year or so, and then things began to relax a little more.
The one thing I didn't know was that they had to make a turn, on stage, in front of not only the England squad, but all the other countries too, when a new cap first got into the team! The year that Lynne and I were first picked, there were three other new caps - so we weren't alone! It was an adventure and thank goodness!
Of course, to make it simpler, we had to have a little drink - but this was the final night, so the next day, no bowls!
Thankfully, whether they want to, this is something that fresh caps no longer have to do.
There have been some very nice gala dinners and there have also been some to forget, but one that sticks to me is Worthing's last gala dinner, it was a great eye opener and a good way to say goodbye to a new tradition.
I'm such a passionate sportswoman, I've always wanted to play in the Commonwealth Games, and I've always wanted to play in the Olympics from a young age, even though, unfortunately, bowling is not an Olympic sport at present.
It was such an incredible experience when I finally got a chance to be in the squad before the 2002 Manchester Games, and I wanted to be picked, of course, but I enjoyed every minute of the lead up.
Ellen (Falkner) and I were weighing up the choices as we left the final selection weekend - should we find out something about the combinations? We went full circle a few times by the time we got back to Ellen's place! A couple of hours later, I got home and received a call.
Tony (Allcock) gave me the good news and told me that I had been chosen to play in pairs with Lynne (Whitehead).
In the lead-up, we had a wonderful experience and we were as close as any team should be - including men, women and the EAD (Elite Athletes with a Disability). Then I learned so much about the game, as I tried to do during my career in the bowls. It's all been a phase of learning. In a way, I still believe that "everyday is a school day!" ’
I was chosen (with many others) to hold the baton at Cleethorpes before the Commonwealth Games, and that was a great privilege, and it raised my hopes even higher!
It was a true sports fest when we got to the Games, we were living in The Village alongside people who I had been helping and watching and admiring over the years. I was a hit star.
I loved being able to go and watch other sports live, too - and we were on par with the other sports (quite often bowls is not given the kudos it deserves). It was amazing and such an accomplishment to get a bronze medal and I realized how much I wanted to be at the top of the podium.
One specific memory of the games was when four Englishmen won gold. Just before we went on the green, they had their medals displayed. I got so emotional and engrossed in the anthem that when we went on to sing, I was a mess and I was all over the store!
I had pulled myself together by that time and we pulled off a victory! When the bronze medal and the flowers were given to us, I recall holding them like an ice cream cone.
I cringe at those images when I see them, but four years later, when the 2006 Games were held in Melbourne, there were still more reasons to try to make things right.
Indeed, Melbourne was a steep learning curve - the greens; the style of play; playing sets - all! It was an interesting experience, while I was out of my comfort zone, and I really really enjoyed it. I played with Jeannie Baker and Sue Harriott, and we got a triplet of bronze, which was amazing.
2010 was an interesting year: I played a lot of singles in the run up to Delhi, and a few months ago, we had an 8-Nation tournament in India.
I was playing okay, just not fantastic and I couldn't buy a win! I questioned myself and my abilities and this makes you play even worse - when you scratch around, singles can be a lonely game.
Before the final team selection, we got back home and had a few more practices, and when I played in other positions, I began to get my confidence back.
Fortunately, team manager John Bell saw something in Ellen (Falkner) and I played in pairs with Natalie (Melmore) competing in singles and it seemed to work out as we all came home with medals. In the singles, Nat got gold, and Ellen and I did the same in the pairs.
Having had to settle for bronze in 2002 and 2006, when Australia's last bowl sailed past the head in the semi final, I was so over the moon that I turned to Ellen and said, 'I'm getting another color at last! ’
In the group stages, the Malaysians had beaten us, so defeating them in the final meant a great deal.
I have always had a very nice friendship with the individuals with whom I have played and this makes the experience so great to share. Off the green, Ellen and I are best friends, and this really helps to ease the situation and console us on the green. I remember the group game we were playing against Malaysia: I was bad, but I knew there was only one person going to be beating me, and that was me.
Ellen understood and was really understanding of these stuff, but I got to the point that I was trying too hard and getting uptight. Luckily, we put together a strong show in the final!
That day was an adventure, on the same day we had the semi and the final, then, after the jubilation of winning, I was asked for a substance test immediately as I walked off the green.
This is something I am familiar with, of course, but it was so amazingly hot (and I was in the mid-game bathroom), so I wasn't equipped.
What I was not aware of was that I was not permitted to leave the official's sight from the moment she was told of the test until the actual test, so she accompanied me everywhere. She was there when I called my parents (they were watching a neighbor's TV in Spain at the time), and she was probably fed up with hearing me say, 'I can't believe it! ’.
I went to the onsite testing facility directly after the ceremony, and I was very fast as I made sure I drank plenty of water so I could get over it and do it with it.
Unfortunately, my first sample was too poor (as I figured this was for the better, I had drank a lot of water!), I had to offer a second sample which obviously took quite some time. Mary (Price) and Ellen were waiting for me when I got out at around midnight, and we returned to the village and celebrated with ice cream from the food tent!
It was in the early hours by the time we got to bed and we had already decided to go to the Taj Mahal on our first day off, so we were on a coach after about three hours of sleep, then on a train, obviously with our medals in our bags.
There was no way I was leaving anywhere the medal! One of my favorite pictures is of Ellen and me in front of the Taj Mahal with our medals. What a terrific experience!
I played in two outdoor world championships, in 2004 at Leamington and in 2008 at Christchurch (New Zealand), which created entirely opposite experiences.
The debut of My World Bowls at Leamington was amazing. I skipped fours, and we won gold, which was a truly awesome experience. I suppose it really was a case of 'first time lucky'!
I had one of the greatest games I've ever played in the semi-finals, and that's going to stay with me forever.
Jayne Christie, Ellen Falkner, Jeannie Baker and I sincerely felt that there was something we could do. That was, I would say, the peak of my career - so far!
But, while it was very special to win the gold medal, I admit I was somewhat disappointed when we got our medals on the podium.
I've just bowed my head down to have it in my hand. My team mates were laughing - a lot! Christchurch has not been nearly as effective in 2008. Especially for one of the worst international games I've ever played, I'll remember it.
Without losing a game before playing Ireland in the quarter final, we qualified top of the group in the fours - and I played as though I had never bowled before! I felt awful, but I was grateful to play with people once again who knew that these things were happening.
On top of this, when we were there with an embolism that was very alarming, my dad was taken to the hospital.
Fortunately, mom and dad remained on a holiday (as my dad had retired that year) and a few weeks later, they were able to fly home safely.
The 2007 Atlantic Championships in Ayr bring back so many humorous memories, Lynne (Whitehead), Jeannie (Baker) and I managed a triple Gold, and on the way back to our accommodation, which was a house about 40 minutes from the green, we celebrated with a meal out.
It was an upside down home, and we would sit together in the living room, most of us sweating like you've never seen before, only to know that Doreen (Hankin) was cold, so she turned up the gas!
Doreen even taught me during that trip how to jive. Yeah, and I was thinking that I'd support Ellen, who had some tight muscles in her back, by standing up against her. I saw him do it in a movie! Fortunately, I did not harm her and she was able to play.
In the 2011 Atlantic Championships in Cyprus, where we - Julie Saunders (now Leake), Sian Honnor, Ellen Falkner and I - reached gold in the fours, the last truly international event I played in was. The whole experience on and off the green was fantastic, the weather clearly helped, but we had a great team spirit as well.
In 2011, because of work obligations, I was aware that it was becoming more difficult for me to play in the elite championships (if selected).
You can't really take a holiday as a teacher (we're constantly reminded by non-teachers that,' you get enough holidays') and getting into a supply teacher is not always easy.
My school covers internally and leaving them in the lurch is not fair for the other staff or the students. At the time, I was deputy curriculum leader as well, so I had more responsibility.
I graduated in Leeds as a PE teacher, and I was lucky to get a job at my own high school, now known as the Tollbar Academy in New Waltham.
At my school, I taught short mat bowls and took a couple of groups down to my green, hoping I could teach them some of the skills they would need if they decided to play in the future.
I am very passionate about sport and I strive to inspire students to be involved and hopefully allow them to see the fun aspects of sport.
The most enjoyable part of teaching is the actual teaching of the students. I'm the Head of Physical Education now, and I find nothing more rewarding than seeing how many lessons students enjoy.
My school has been really helpful, but I can only ask for so much from them. Quite honestly, the 2008 World Bowls were a rough time and I knew things would only get harder when I was advised that 'bowls don't pay the mortgage.'
I would love to play in any possible event, of course, but with time it is hard. I still have Harry, my six-year-old son, and it's very difficult for me to spend so much time away from him.
I know my partner Ben will take care of him absolutely well (I trust him), and it's not about that, it's about the fact that I work full time, and since mid-week time with Harry is minimal, I want to spend as much time on the weekends with him as possible.
It will be better as he grows older and begins to understand - and he won't want to waste all that time with me! Ben and I expect to get married in December, but who knows, with the COVID-19 situation? They're crossing our fingers.
I always love the game, and I hope fervently that more highlights will come.
The fact that you can have a dreadful game and get walloped is one of the best things about playing bowls as a hobby and having a young family - yet when you get home, Harry is none the wiser and a bit of perspective is renewed! You're the same mummy now!
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