Devon girl Natalie Melmore shines at the Commonwealth Games
PUBLISHED: 09:30 31 July 2014
Olympic pentathlete HEATHER FELL meets the Devon girl who is shattering the stereotypical image of bowls players
For some sports, the Commonwealth Games is their greatest chance to shine. This is certainly the case for bowls.
It is the only multi-sport event in which the players have the chance to compete alongside other athletes and is described by some as their version of the Olympics.
There is a certain stereotype associated with bowls; one that Devon girl Natalie Melmore completely shatters.
As a nine-year-old Natalie was introduced to the sport after watching her father play. It was a sport-for-all junior session where she had her first taste and although she took part in various sports growing up it was bowls that stuck.
By the age of 14 she had been selected to represent the England under 25s team. Four years later she became English champion.
This was followed up the next year with a silver in the pairs at senior level. Her progression ensured selection onto the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games team representing England, the biggest event in the calendar for the sport of bowls. Natalie admits she was a complete underdog going into the competition, yet she came away with an individual gold medal.
The success of the English bowls team four years ago has not transferred into funding. All of the England squad currently work full time and only receive a small amount of financial help in a commonwealth championship year.
After winning gold Natalie returned to Plymouth University to finish her law degree and then spent the following summer balancing three part time jobs; cleaning in Matalan, waitressing and helping with her father’s gardening business.
She even considered a move to Australia in an attempt to train full time but this fell by the wayside and she now works full time whilst training every night and competing most weekends.
When I asked Natalie how she can fit all of this in she explains: “I have a very understanding boss who allows me to combine unpaid leave with my holiday pay for competitions. Also my fiancé is a bowls player so we’ll often be competing at the same place.”
Even with an understanding boss and a fiancé who plays the same sport it is still a difficult balancing act. When I spoke to Natalie she had just competed in Bristol on the Saturday, Leamington Spa on the Sunday then was back at work in Devon with a full week of training for the next five nights.
The defending Commonwealth champion is aware that there will be more pressure on her this time and it will be something she isn’t sure how she will react to.
As well as a fitness programme that she has to fit in around playing every evening, Natalie and the team have started to work with a psychologist. Another factor on their side will be the greens as all pitches in the northern hemisphere have a certain type of grass and this will put the strong nations such as Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand at a disadvantage.
The official England Bowls Team was announced last month. Natalie is among a team of five women and five men, with an impressive total of four Devon athletes all coming from her home club Kings Bowls in Torquay.
Devon boasts a number of lawn bowls clubs and many of the less well known winter version of indoor bowls. The government have identified the benefits of light exercise and social interaction in the older population, as a result there has been funding from Sport England to help increase the participation levels of the over 65s. A significant boost to the indoor version in Devon has been the opening of the Life Centre in Plymouth that has a permanent indoor green.
Natalie however opts to only play in the summer season as it is such an intense programme. She will need to attend qualifiers for the National Championships immediately after the Commonwealth Games regardless of the result. This is proof of how popular and competitive the sport is in the UK.