Inspirational Bowler reflects on remarkable personal journey at Birmingham 2022

·4-min read
Bowler, 43, is the first Team England athlete in action at Birmingham 2022
Bowler, 43, is the first Team England athlete in action at Birmingham 2022

By James Toney in Birmingham

There is a lot of talk about journeys at the Commonwealth Games.

St Helena's used to take 11 days by land, sea, and air, though a new airstrip in Jamestown has ruined the romance of that.

But the most winding road to Birmingham has been taken by a former brickie from just down the M40 in Buckinghamshire.

However, Craig Bowler is not just looking to become the first bowler named Bowler to win bowls medal.

He is the first Team England athlete in action, as 11 days of sport gets under way in Birmingham, a remarkable story that comes full circle on the manicured lawns of Victoria Park.

A few weeks ago, the 43-year-old went back to the place where he tried to take his life 15 years ago.

Bowler, who spent nearly two months in a coma, and lost both his legs and an arm before he was 'nursed back to life' by his physiotherapist's assistant, Abby.

They are now married, with two children, Max and Tilly, and the proud Bowlers will be in the crowd at Leamington Spa to watch their dad, alongside Kieran Rollings, take on Scotland in the men's pairs.

“I was just down all the time, I struggled getting out of bed, going to work,” he said.

“People around me didn’t notice any difference in how I was, I had a good career, lots of friends but something just exploded.

“One morning I just woke up and decided I didn't want to be here anymore.

“I can't remember the moment exactly; I can't remember the lead up to it. I can't remember it happening, I just remember waking up a month and a half later in hospital. That day I woke up I just remember being happy that I didn’t die.”

Suicide remains the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 and Bowler has a twin mission in Birmingham - winning gold but also using his story as cautionary tale of what happens when you don’t reach out for help and support.

Bowler first met in Abby in the months after the accident, she would ice his legs - he still calls her the 'Ice Queen' - and told him it would take three and a half years to walk on prosthetics, determined to show off he managed it in just six weeks.

“As open and honest as Craig is about what happened to him, it can't be easy, but I think it needs to be said, it needs to be seen, it needs to be heard,” said Abby Bowler.

“People need to know; men need to know it is okay to talk and it is okay to be sad. And once you get talking, then burdens might lift and advice might be given and hopefully, it can set them down a better path and not a disastrous path.

“Because I think what Craig feels, he doesn't want anyone to feel how he felt at that time in his life. And if he can help people not get to the point that he got to, then he's winning.”

And Bowler is quite obsessed about winning, determined to make his appearance in Birmingham a sports story, not a sob story.

Bowler, who spent nearly two months in a coma, and lost both his legs and an arm before he was 'nursed back to life' by his physiotherapist's assistant, Abby
Bowler, who spent nearly two months in a coma, and lost both his legs and an arm before he was 'nursed back to life' by his physiotherapist's assistant, Abby

They’ll be lots of words at these Games about the power of sport to change lives or prejudices, especially in a fragile Commonwealth of nations where views of inclusivity and diversity are more than just oceans apart. Bowler is living and breathing those platitudes.

“I was given a second chance that's how I looked at it, it could have ended up one way or the other. I could have gone into depression again, and I didn’t,” he adds.

“Obviously, the medication and all that helped me through bad times and the dark times. And I just got on with it and thought right from now on, it's going be tough, but I’ve just got to keep going and be positive.

“Within a year after my accident, a friend's dad invited me down to the local bowls club. I was like it's an old man's game, that sort of stigma.

“So, I went down, I started playing and got good at it, the addictive personality started kicking in, wanting to win and became really, competitive.

"I could have sat in a wheelchair and felt sorry for myself, but I had a chance to live again and every negative I decided to turn into a positive.

Bowler once thought his biggest sporting claim to be fame would be he was the first streaker at MK Dons, it is fair to say that's about to change.

There has never been a better time to discover bowls, truly a sport for everybody.  It is all to play for – discover more at www.bowlsengland.com

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