Sport and Health

Bruce Wakefield : Para Athlete of the Year

Bruce Wakefield has played pretty much every sport …. rugby. hockey, softball, tennis, badminton, squash, golf, and more. Nothing unusual in that you might think. Many Kiwi blokes give everything a go.

But Bruce has cerebral palsy. And the very affliction that might excuse others from participating in sport, has spurred Bruce on to become the best in whatever code he tackles. He’s been on a 9 handicap in golf, for goodness sake … there’s not many people with a body that does what it’s told can even achieve that!

And his latest achievement is in the sport we all love … lawn bowls. The other night at Eden Park, Bruce won the award for Para Athlete of the Year.


Bruce Wakefield wins Para Athlete of the year

Like all the award winners on the night, Bruce has an impressive resume of bowls achievements : 2 x National Disabled titles; 2 x New Zealand Open Disabled titles; New Zealand representative in the International Disabled Bowls World Champs in 2015; New Zealand representative in the Trans-Tasman Disabled Bowls competition in 2017; New Zealand representative (and Silver Medalist) in the Commonwealth Games disabled bowls in 2018; private coach of new para bowlers; Halberg Awards nominee; and more.

While Bruce is proud of those achievements, it is achieving in the ‘normal’ bowling world which really gets him excited.

“I’ve lived with cerebral palsy all my life,” says Bruce. “Living with cerebral palsy is ‘normal’ to me. I don’t know any different. Most Disabled Bowlers have lost the use of something. So when it comes to bowls, we love mixing it with the able-bodied bowlers.”

And 99% of the 25,000 full-playing, able-bodied club members in New Zealand would be more than thrilled with what Bruce has achieved there : Runner-up in the Burnside Triples; Third place in the Stewart Buttar Burnside Pairs; Post-section round of 32 in the National Singles Championship; Post-section round of 16 in the National Fours Championship … the list goes on.

Bruce has even got two Club titles. That doesn’t sound like a big deal. But when you play at Burnside, you’re not just up against weekend social bowlers. Bruce even beat young gun Richard Hocking to snatch one of his titles.

“It’s that sort of competitive opportunity which makes bowls stand out over and above any other sport,” says Bruce. “Disabled bowlers can compete with each other, or play in the mainstream able-bodied competition. Name another sport where that routinely happens!”

“But the opportunities in bowls reach far more than that.”

“While other sports are still struggling to introduce gender equality and opportunity in their sport, lawn bowls embraced gender integration years ago. Many of our tournaments are mixed. And both men and women compete at the same national and international tournaments. That’s miles ahead of other sports.”

“What’s more, in what other sport can you find yourself in the national tournament competing as a bowls newby against a legend in the Blackjacks?”

“Bowls is a game which anyone and everyone can give a go … and pick up easily.”

That’s just what Bruce did 35 years ago, when Bruce and his parents Shirley and Bob Wakefield decided to take up bowls at St Andrews Bowling Club just south of Timaru and his brother Grant joined Johnsonville Bowling Club in Wellington to have a go. They all loved it.

“I was working with Hallensteins and then Farmers,” recalls Bruce, “and as I got transferred around the country to manage various stores, I joined up with the local bowling club : Te Awamutu Bowling Club; Tinwald Bowling Club (Ashburton); West End Bowling Club (Timaru); and Meadowbank Bowling Club (Oamaru). I’m now working at Beds R Us in Christchurch, and have found myself at Burnside.”

“It’s a great club,” says Bruce. “They threw me in the deep end, and I’ve been swimming ever since! But it’s my brother Grant and Pat Bonham who I really have to thank for all their support.”

The introduction of a Parajacks team into the upcoming national televised Bowls3Five competition epitomises what Bruce loves about the sport.

“We’ll be competing with the best,” effuses Bruce. “It doesn’t get better than that!”

The Parajacks squad of eight for the Bowsl3Five Televised League is Mark Noble; Barry Wynks; Peter Horn, Graham Skellern; Lynda Bennett; Carolyn Crawford; Pam Walker and Bruce.

They’ll have a lot of fans hoping they do well.

When you have a guy like Bruce Wakefield who says he’s ‘lucky’ to ‘only’ have an affliction like cerebral palsy (and insisting there’s lots of people worse off than him), then you know that there’s a powerfully able mind that can demand the best out of a not-so-able body.

Published with permission from Bowls NZ

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