APART from a bit of light, Gwen van Rensburg-Nel cannot see. But that has not stopped her from being one of the country’s top bowls players and the defending champion in her category at the South African Disabled Bowls Championship.
Van Rensburg-Nel is among 144 disabled bowls players – including an Israeli team – participating in the 50th championship being held this weekend at the Westview Sports Club in Newton Park, Port Elizabeth.
Players are either visually impaired or wheelchair bound and compete in categories determined by the severity of their condition.
Blind players pair off with coaches, who assist in their shots by giving instructions and signals.
Van Rensburg-Nel, 60, started losing her eyesight at the age of 11 due to a genetic condition, macular degeneration. She took up bowls as a social sport in 1974 and the competitive bug soon bit. She is categorised as a B2 (partially-blind) competitor.
“Since 1995, I’ve brought home 13 first place trophies from my championship matches.”
Van Rensburg-Nel and her coach, Geoffrey Nucombe, have worked together for 22 years.
On the green, she makes her move after a set of voice commands from him and the slightest visual cue from the contrast between his dark pants and the white ball.
“I struggle when there’s not enough light to make out my markers. If there is a shadow over Geoff’s shoe, it becomes very hard for me to judge distances,” she said.
Nucombe said a good relationship between player and coach was crucial. “You’ll find that certain players only get to work with their coach during the run-up to a tournament.
“Gwen and I are lucky, we live in the same city, and we’ve been working together for years. She works very well off of my cues,” he said.
“Gwen’s going to the international tournament next year in Worthing [Sussex]. She’s been doing this for 38 years, and she’s amazing.”