Swimming, cycling, weights and resistance training are all part of Barrie Lester’s routine. (ABC News: Patrick Wood)
Barrie Lester looks like a footy player.
He’s lean, muscular, has a sharp haircut and an even sharper jaw.
If you saw him down the street you would think he was an elite athlete, and you’d be right.
Except he doesn’t play football. Instead, he’s our top-ranked bowls star, and in April will lead the Australian team to the Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast.
Video: Barrie Lester on how the Australian bowls team is preparing for the Commonwealth Games
“When I tell people I started lawn bowls at 14 and I’ve been playing for 20 years, usually the response is, ‘wow’,” he told News Breakfast.
Lester can work with wow. Because he’s on a mission to spread the word about bowls and shift the perception it’s just the game your grandma plays.
“I’m trying to change that,” he said.
“It’s inclusive, in that you can be very young or very old and play the game.
“Just this week I’ve taught bowls to over 1,000 kids.”
Lawn bowls has a rich history in Australia, being one of just six sports played at the original Commonwealth Games in 1930.
After seemingly losing its lustre with younger folk somewhere along the way it staged a bit of a comeback. Thanks, in part, to inventions like barefoot bowls, and the fact uni students realised you could still buy a schooner of beer for only $4.50 at your local club.
(The Drawing Room)
When clubs noticed their memberships were dwindling in the late 90s and early 2000s, they responded by moving from a membership model — where you were a signed-up player — to a participation one, where anyone could come and play.
“So now we’ve got about 600,000 people each year out there playing bowls just at a participation level, and we’ve got hundreds of thousands still as members,” Lester said.
“The sport really does cater to everyone now.”
Whether the 2002 Mick Molloy film Crackerjack helped or hindered this quest is up for debate.
At an elite level, the sport has become serious business.
Lester has made more than 130 international appearances, claiming a bronze medal for Australia at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and silver at the 2016 World Bowls Championships.
He has a scholarship at the Victorian Institute of Sport and his training regime is intense to say the least.
“I do a lot of swimming. I do a lot of resistance work,” he said.
“There’s a lot of lunge work, a lot of core and torso work. A lot of glute work, a lot of cycling. And, of course, eating very healthy.”
He also sees a sports psychologist and hones his breathing techniques.
“Because I guess when you have 25 million people in Australia who want to see you win a gold medal, when you’re in that gold medal position you want to be mentally and physically fit and healthy and it’s just about preparing right.”
Lester describes bowls as a game of millimetres, where the tiniest lapse of concentration can see you crash out of a game.
It’s a precision sport, like golf or shooting, and he could end up playing 20 games over 10 days at the Gold Coast in his quest to bring home another medal.
But if it doesn’t happen for him this time, Lester is confident there will be a new breed of bowls players coming through the system soon to take over.
“In 10 or 20 years we’ll see a lot of international competitions where you’ll see the majority of the people in their early to mid 20s,” he said.
“They’ll come out of school programs and different national and state programs and that will be the future.”