Surrounded by world champions, Commonwealth Games medalists and bowlers from around the world, Russell Bates could’ve been likened to a goldfish dropped into the Pacific Ocean.
“I don’t put myself in the same caliber as some of those players to be honest,” Bates said.
“It’s almost a dream come true for anyone who’s genuine about trying to test themselves against the best.”
In what’s arguably the biggest bowls event in Australia, The Everest of Bowls competition gathers bowlers from all around the world with its $100,000 prize pool.
Rain and wind buffeted the green at Dudley Park Bowling Club when Bates found himself against Daniel Brown in the finals. The grand prize? $50,000.
Russell held a commanding 30-15 lead in the final end but Brown was playing good shots to keep himself close.
Brown just hit Russell’s bowl to move the jack into the ditch. He responded by attempting to draw. Brown went for his shot, a wide sweeping hand. Russell had won.
“It was almost an anticlimax,” he said.
“I said to my brother, guess it’s okay to win ugly isn’t it?
“He said it doesn’t matter how.
“You got the result, well done.”
Coming into the competition, his goal was to just make it past the first stage. But Russell and his family have always been battlers.
In remission for three years, Russell had kidney cancer. He credits his family for getting him through the tough times.
“You get all sorts of things running through your mind as a youngish father with four kids,” Russell said.
“You close ranks, be thankful for what you’ve got and the time you get and just pull together and get through it.”
But Russell said his own battle was nothing compared to his youngest son’s. Born three months prematurely, with oral dyspraxia, chronic lung disease and cerebral palsy, it was a scary time.
“His first couple years were extremely difficult,” he said.
“Put that in comparison with what I went through, it’s nothing, he was fighting to exist, I had already had 40 years.”
It was out of this difficulty that his wife Amber co-founded a charity, TinySparks WA, which helps families experiencing high risk pregnancies and babies born sick or premature.
TinySparks, now in its fifth year, provides support for families by sending care packages to neonatal units, having playgroups, sending gifts, peer support and more.
“It’s really important for us to somehow, make a difference through charity,” he said.
“I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s us making that commitment to add something back to the world.”
That kindness was repaid last year when the Bates family was featured on a home renovation TV show. A 50’s beach shack was turned into a beach home. Hundreds of people from their community helped the family.
“It was a wonderful gift,” Russell said
“I’m thankful the family is healthy and can pursue their goals and if I can find little time to get on the green, I’ll be happy.”
Russell said he hopes to be playing lawn bowls until he’s in old age and is thankful that it can be accessible for anyone.
“I’d like to be one of those old buggers listening to the young fellas quip, ‘he’s nearly 90 and is still dropping them on!,’” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what your gender or age is, you can be able bodied, disabled, blind – bowls really is a sport that caters for everyone.”
If you’re wondering what he’s going to do with the 50k, it turns out while the Bates kids aren’t bowlers (yet). But they are keen sailors with Olympic aspirations.
So maybe their gift may not fit under the Christmas tree this year.
By Justin Sayson