LAWN bowls was central to Garry Hood’s life before he contracted the deadly illness that almost killed him. If anything it’s even more important now.

The 61-year-old represented Scotland at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria – skipping a men’s fours team that included legendary figure Willie Wood – before the sport took him overseas on a more permanent basis when he accepted a job in Cyprus running bowling holidays where he would stay for a dozen years.

Then one morning in 2015 he awoke back home in Ayr to discover he couldn’t get out of bed. That led to the former carer being taken into his local infirmary and then quickly transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow for more specialist treatment.

The diagnosis showed he had contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome, a very rare and serious condition that affects the nervous system, and also Lyme disease, thought to have been contracted through an infected tick bite. Hood would spend the best part of a year in a state of paralysis, his life at times in grave danger.

“I just got up one morning and I couldn’t stand up,” he reflects on the day his world was turned upside-down. “And that was the start of a long 11 months. I was paralysed most of the time. And after three months they discovered I had Lyme disease as well and that may have triggered the Guillain-Barre syndrome. But it’s something they can never tell for sure.

“A lot of women get it after childbirth as well so they reckon trauma is a cause, while other people get it after injections like a flu jab. So they don’t know what causes it and there’s no cure.

“All they can do is give you immunoglobulin to try to reverse it but it didn’t work for me and it eventually attacked my respiratory system and stopped me from breathing. I ended up on life-support so it was touch and go for a while.”

His subsequent recovery was slow and arduous, the diligent work of his physiotherapists getting him out of a hospital bed and back on his feet.

But many of the symptoms still linger. He can’t walk for any length of time, needs a stick to get around and drives an adapted car with hand controls.

Unable to continue working and without close family to look after him, Hood admits he was looking at a fairly bleak existence. A former Rangers season ticket holder, he even had to give up on trips to Ibrox as the walk from his car and up and down the stairs to his seat was too challenging.

It was then that bowls returned to his life. Initially dismissing calls for him to return to the sport, Hood finally succumbed and quickly got back into it as a para-player using an adapted crutch to aid him between throws. It has proved to be key in his recovery.

“They said that if you’re to get fully back to normal it would happen within two years and I’m over five years now and still needing a stick to walk,” he adds.

“I can’t walk any distance at all, I get breathless quite quickly. But the physios did a lot of work with me and I can never thank them enough for that.

“Just getting me back up on my feet, learning to use my fingers and arms again. I was in a wheelchair for 15 months after coming out of hospital and it’s been tough. But you learn to live with it.

“It took me two years to get back to bowls. People had been trying before then but I didn’t want to be viewed as a disabled bowler. But one day I made my mind up that I was just going to get on with life. No matter what it was I would throw myself into it 100 percent.

“I bought tall flower pots and started planting flowers and took up kayaking with a group of guys who I go camping with.

“And then I decided to get back into the bowling too and that’s been brilliant. I’ve got a crutch with an adapted elbow rest as I tried it initially just with my stick but didn’t have the dexterity in my fingers to hold it steady while I delivered the bowl. But the crutch has been a brilliant help. Just being able to get back playing bowls again and being part of that scene has made such a difference to my life.”

Hood’s commitment has now been rewarded with a place on Team Scotland at this summer’s Commonwealth Games, 28 years after that maiden bow in Canada. The chance to represent his country again was one he assumed had passed him by and he intends to savour every minute of it.

“When I got invited to join the Bowls Scotland high performance squad, I made it my goal to try to get to another Commonwealth Games. In my situation you’ve got to have different targets to aim for otherwise it’s a long winter sitting about the house.

“I knew it was going to be very difficult, physically demanding, stressful and also really competitive. So when I found out I’d made it, it was just unbelievable. I’m playing with Kevin Wallace in the pairs and we’ve got a good record together so I’d like to think we’ve got a really good chance of winning the gold medal. That’s just the way I am. I wouldn’t be going if I didn’t think we could win it.”