Wolland taps into healing aspects

Darron Wolland celebrates being named New Zealand disability bowler of the year at the Brighton...
Darron Wolland celebrates being named New Zealand disability bowler of the year at the Brighton Bowling Club. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Put a bowl in Darron Wolland’s hand and his pain and problems just drift away.

If only the rest of life was so easy.

The 52-year-old, who has been named New Zealand disability bowler of the year, has had more than his share of battles.

He was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis — a type of arthritis causing inflammation in the joints and ligaments of the spine — in his 30s and lives with chronic pain.

Keeping on top of his mental health takes a lot of effort as well.

His previous partner, Liz Manukau, died 11 years ago, leaving him with six children to manage. The youngest was just 13 months at the time.

Bowls has been a kind of sanctuary over the years. And when he is "in the zone", it is just a great escape.

"The pain just kind of goes away because you are just in another world and that is all you are focusing on," he said.

Those years as a single stay-at-home dad are "a bit of a blur now", he said.

"But it was tough because I didn’t have too much in the way of family support.

"[Bowls] has probably helped me with the mental side of things because I do struggle with depression and anxiety. For me it is really about keeping my mind occupied and meeting new people.

"You just meet so many people from different walks of life."

Wolland was involved in a car accident in his 30s and was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis at that time.

"I knew something was wrong but there was no proof there was anything wrong until then. I reckon I’ve probably had it since I was a teenager, so I was dealing with it without knowing I had something wrong," he said.

Wolland grew up in Palmerston North and played a lot of different sport when he was younger, but rugby league was his passion.

He was forced to hang up his boots when it became too hard to manage the pain.

Wolland and his late partner moved to Balclutha in 2008 and that is when he discovered a real love of bowls. He had previously dabbled in the sport but embraced it with more enthusiasm.

The family moved to Mosgiel in 2013 and he linked up with the Wakari Bowling Club. And just this week, he switched allegiances to the Brighton Bowling Club.

Wolland and wife Roanna have two children, so all up he has eight children, and six of them are still at home.

Life is busy. Bowls is a change of pace.

He played able-bodied bowls, but about a year ago linked up with Para Bowls New Zealand and he has enjoyed tremendous success.

He won the singles title in the New Zealand Disabled Lawn Bowls Association championships in Invercargill in November, and also went on to win the singles in the open disability section at the national tournament in Auckland in January.

That form earned him selection for the Blackjacks team for the world championships on the Gold Coast last month.

"It still hurts," he said when asked how it went.

He paired with Mark Noble and the duo came within a single bowl of securing a medal.

"We had our last game against Scotland and we just needed to win to make the semis and be guaranteed a medal. We were 17-16 up and the Scotland skip had one bowl left.

"But he played just a brilliant bowl that dragged the kitty around to his other bowl for two shots. And that was us.

"It was gut-wrenching. We had our fingertips on a medal. It still hurts."