Hill finding way back to top level

Jamie Hill, of Auckland, in action at the North East Valley Bowling Club on Saturday.PHOTO: PETER...
Jamie Hill, of Auckland, in action at the North East Valley Bowling Club on Saturday.PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
An opportunity to play at the Eastbourne Bowling Club, in Wellington, three years ago went a long way to assisting Blackjack Jamie Hill rediscover his lawn bowls mojo.

Until recently, when as a member of the successful Asia Pacific team, Hill had not experienced the buzz of representing New Zealand since the ill-fated team to Kuala Lumpur 10 years ago.

In the years between 2009 and 2016 work and family life took priority, although he continued to play bowls at various club, regional and national levels, but more for the enjoyment and social side of the sport.

Now with teenage twin boys, Ryan and Connor (13) and daughter Sophie (11), Hill has discovered he has a little more time to put into the game he loves, and discovered through his father Neville.

"It was easy to focus on family and then work and just play more for fun," he said of his approach to bowls while his children were younger.

"I'd play the odd big tournament, but not really look beyond that."

Encouraged by his peers in the game to play at the Eastbourne Club in Wellington, Hill began to play in a similar vein that saw him, at the age of 22, become one of the youngest players to represent New Zealand at the English Bowling Association's 10-nation centenary tournament in 2003. He continued to feature in many Blackjacks teams for the next six years, including the honour of representing New Zealand at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. But with home, family and work taking a front seat 10 years ago, Hill reassessed his priorities.

"I had an opportunity to play at Eastbourne in the inter-club and I guess it meant I was playing more bowls consistently at a reasonable level," Hill said of beginning his journey back to top-level bowls.

At 38, Hill still has plenty to offer the sport and said that getting involved with the Eastbourne club three years ago definitely contributed to an appetite in getting back in the national squad and with his recent inclusion in the Asia Pacific team.

Playing more bowls and at a higher level has turned him from contenting himself as a "part-timer" to now being in the mix for next year's world championships.

He said he owed a lot to being able to play alongside the likes of Gary Lawson, Justine Goodwin and Phil Skoglund at Eastbourne.

"A few of us were all in the same boat and it made us play. It became a commitment to playing at a reasonable level," he said of the trio all motivating each other to the next level.

Although being Auckland-based had it moments, Hill is turning his attention back to playing for the Mount Albert Club, where he is a greenkeeper. But he says he has a lot to thank the Eastbourne Club for in turning his game around and putting him back in the international mix.

When the opportunity came to get back into the international mix earlier this year, Hill was incentivised and his game went to another level.

"The kids are little more older, so I have more time to put the work in."

Late next month Hill has another chance to push for world championship selection next year as a member of the Blackjacks squad for the World Bowls Challenge and transTasman tournaments in Australia.

His chances were further enhanced over the weekend as he displayed his usual knack of progressing deep into a tournament, by automatically qualifying for quarterfinal play after topping his group in section play.

His first hurdle on the way to the final comes at 8.30am this morning when he is drawn to play international team-mate Gary Lawson. The winner of that game will play either world champion Shannon McIlroy or the last remaining overseas player in the tournament Ryan Burnett (Scotland).

For the record

Age: 38
Occupation: Greenkeeper
Partner: Melinda
Children: Twin sons Ryan and Connor (13), daughter Sophie (11).
International selection: Among the youngest players to represent New Zealand in bowls, at 22 in 2003.
Commonwealth Games: 2006 Melbourne.
Asia Pacific: Five medals (triples and fours).

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