Commonwealth Games: ‘Blind’ Kiwi bowler regains sight but loses Birmingham spot

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Canterbury bowler Deane Robertson, who received his sight but was unable to compete in the Commonwealth Games. Photo/George Heard

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A visually impaired bowler who was on track to represent New Zealand at this month’s Commonwealth Games has lost his chance to win gold because he has regained the power of sight.

Deane Robertson, 55, is missing out on representing his country as a para-athlete after discovering his vision had returned as he was ‘classified’ ahead of the Birmingham games.

“I came out of the hospital quite upset,” Robertson said. “In some ways it was also joy – because I could see! So it was also joy.

“The most important thing was seeing my first grandchild, who was born 10 days ago.”

“It’s a story of wins and losses,” Robertson manager and bowling guide Kevin Smith said. “They had to test him with special resistance glasses and suddenly he could see.”

Robertson was 15 when he began losing his sight, and his condition worsened eight years ago. When he went to take tests for the Commonwealth Games, he had a prosthetic left eye and could only see about half a meter of blurry vision in his right eye.

Bowler Deane Robertson (right), pictured with coach Kevin Smith.  Photo/George Heard
Bowler Deane Robertson (right), pictured with coach Kevin Smith. Photo/George Heard

He admitted that it wasn’t until coming to bowl, succeeding, winning New Zealand titles and being selected for the Commonwealth Games that he realized glasses could help him. .

“If it wasn’t for the bowls, he’d be walking around with 18-inch blurry vision,” Smith said. “He lost the Commonwealth Games but won his vision.”

Robertson started bowling five years ago and soon realized he had a special talent. Both he and Smith trained hard and the bowler won national para-bowl titles.

“I didn’t know how to bowl at all, I had no idea,” Robertson said. “Whatever he says, I do.

Just 14 weeks after throwing his first pitch, Robertson won his first national singles title.

“When we started Kevin said we could go to the Commonwealth Games – and it happened.”

The couple said they were on an emotional roller coaster when they realized Robertson could see again.

“When he was first tested in hospital and suddenly realized that Dean would be able to use glasses and have vision that would take him out of blind bowls and probably the Commonwealth Games, we were both in tears,” Smith said.

After hearing this remarkable story, an optometrist donated a pair of imported glasses. Thanks to these, Robertson can now see all the way to the end of the bowling green.

“He can stand on New Brighton Pier and see the boats coming into Lyttelton Harbour,” Smith said. “If it hadn’t been for bowls, he’d be walking around with 18-inch blurry vision.

“He lost the Commonwealth Games but won his vision.”

Next season, Robertson will join Smith on his team at Burnside Bowling Club in what will be his first time playing in sighted competition. “I expect Deane to be fine,” Smith said. “I have no doubt much success will come to him.”

The New Zealand Olympic Committee made a special presentation to the bowler yesterday, marking his background and selection, although he is ultimately no longer eligible for blind balls.

Gerald Browers, replacing Robertson on the New Zealand team, will work with Smith to try to earn a medal in his honour.

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