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Bowls: Young and gold

SCOTLAND has a rich history of success in the lawn bowls arena, from Robert Sprot claiming singles gold at the 1934 Commonwealth Games to Willie Wood following suit in 1982, as well as the raft of world titles garnered by the likes of Richard Corsie, Paul Foster, Alex Marshall and most recently, Stewart Anderson.

For Kevin Wallace, only gold will do   Photograph: Steve Cox
For Kevin Wallace, only gold will do Photograph: Steve Cox

One man on a mission to further that legacy is Kevin Wallace. He has already been a world champion and has now set his sights on representing Team Scotland in para bowls at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next summer.

The 23-year-old comes from a clan of keen bowlers: his parents both played, as do his two brothers and many of his extended family. His uncle Alfie Wallace competed for Canada and won a silver in the pairs at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland.

Wallace took up the game at the age of nine and by 14 was regularly beating many of the adults at Clackmannan Bowling Club. He first represented Scotland in the able-bodied game at U-17 level in 2006 and has since progressed through the ranks, currently playing at U-25 level, with an eye on making the full senior squad.

The apprentice joiner was born with Spina Bifida, a fault in the spinal column in which one or more vertebrae fail to form properly, leaving a gap or split, causing damage to the nervous system. "I have some nerve damage and a hole in my back," he says. "It affects my right side and I can't feel my foot from the ankle down."

He is insistent, however, that it has never held him back. "I walk with a limp and it can be hard going sometimes, but at the end of the day I just get on with it. I don't let it worry me," says Wallace. "I do struggle with balance but then, when I'm on the green, people tell me I have a perfect delivery. It feels natural to me."

It was only two years ago that Wallace discovered his disability made him eligible to play para bowls in the B7 category for ambulant and wheelchair bowlers with minor balance problems. In 2012 he took the singles title at the International Bowls for the Disabled World Championships in South Africa, and claimed a bronze in the pairs.

Wallace was part of a three-man Scottish team, alongside Billy Allan and Michael Simpson, who won gold in the physically disabled open triples at the Bowls Scotland Four Nations Invitational in June, beating England 17-7. The trio followed that with another gold in the 8 Nations Commonwealth Invitational Championships in August, beating South Africa 22-4.

It is a series of results which keeps Wallace on track. The Glasgow 2014 selection period for bowls runs until April 1 with the qualification standard for men's triples requiring either a top-four finish at the Eight Nations Commonwealth Invitational Championships or two wins in either that event or the Four Nations Invitational.

Bowls is one of five para-sports included in Glasgow 2014, alongside cycling, athletics, powerlifting and swimming. "The chance to play in your home Commonwealth Games? That's a once in a lifetime experience," he says. "I just want to keep training, improving and showing everyone what I can do."

Wallace isn't one for frills. He has played on the same bowling greens, just round the corner from his Clackmannan home, since he was a teenager. Likewise, he still uses an ageing set of bowls that were a birthday present from his father Derek eight years ago.

"They are a bit chipped now, but work for me," he says. "I know some players who have lots of different sets but I reckon it gets into their heads a bit. They start to wonder: 'What set should I play with today?' but I don't worry about any of that. It makes life easier. If you win, you win - if you don't, you can't blame the bowls."

In a sport long associated with those of advancing years, Wallace provides the perfect antithesis.

"I'm still young and like to have fun with my friends like anyone else," he says. "I can't be bowling 24/7 or else I think I would get sick of it."

His other hobbies include football, pool, poker and snooker, and Wallace admits his competitive drive kicks in even then. "I give everything I do 100%," he says. "I couldn't play a sport and be 50-50 at it. I love to win. When I was younger I didn't used to take losing so well, but I accept it now. I always tell myself I'll bounce back stronger."

With some key warm-up matches at Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre in Glasgow under his belt, Wallace is aware of utilising that home advantage as much as possible.

"The greens are immaculate," he says. "It's some set-up and going to be amazing. We've got a good schedule ahead of next summer with Bowls Scotland having booked out the greens every weekend, so there's no excuse not to be out there playing.

"The weather can have an impact on how a green can feel. Here, we get a lot of rain, so our greens in Scotland tend to be quite heavy compared to other countries where the ground is drier and the play faster. That should hopefully be a great home advantage."

For Wallace, only one colour of medal will do: gold. "I want to do my best for my country," he says. "In all the years I've played for Scotland I've always had the same desire to win. I don't like getting beat. I'm not there for second prizes."

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