By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
All it took was a phone call, a few terse words and the prospect of playing for Canada in the 2014 Commonwealth Games to get John Bezear back into the game that has given him so much — lawn bowling.
“The best player in Canada called me up out of the blue and asked, ‘What the (heck) am I doing,’” said the 33-year-old transplanted Aussie, who makes his home in Kitchener. “He said I had a real good chance to represent Canada, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s tiddlywinks. If you’ve got the chance to represent your country, that’s a chance you have to take.”
Twelve months later and Bezear, a former professional player in Australia, has yet to regret lunging back into bowls again.
The former tournament director of the Waterloo Women’s Open tennis tournament made his international debut for Canada last month, joining Ryan Bester of Hanover, the same guy who called him out a year earlier, for a pairs bronze medal at the world championships in Adelaide, Australia.
A former multi-sport athlete, Bezear was allowed to compete for Canada because rules stipulate a player must live in their country of residence for at least three years.
Bezear reached that milestone last year, which included a three-year stint as general manager of the Waterloo Tennis Club, before resurrecting his lawn bowling career.
It made for an interesting experience in Adelaide as he competed against players from his home country, including the duo that knocked Bezear and Bester out of gold medal contention in the semifinals.
“It was a proud moment. Just a thrill really,” said Bezear, who came close to representing Australia at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. “It’s an absolute privilege to wear your country’s colours on your back.
“I caught a bit of flack, was called a traitor at times, but it was all in good fun.”
It certainly wasn’t something Bezear envisioned when he accompanied his dad, Trevor, to the Tuggeranong Valley Lawns Bowls Club in his hometown of Canberra as a 17-year-old.
Two years later and Bezear, who played just about anything under the sun in Australia (rugby, cricket, field hockey, tennis, golf and badminton), was a national men’s open champion.
It was the start of a 16-year sporting relationship that paid off handsomely for Bezear while playing in Australia — where bowlers can earn a $50,000 to $60,000 base salary at a training centre — and abroad.
After playing in Sydney, he met his wife Kristin, a London, Ont., native — they had their first child, a girl, 14 weeks ago — on a trip to Europe after competing in bowls. He got the inside track on his job as vice-president of marketing and business development at a Mississauga-based retail services firm after meeting his boss at a club.
“This sport continues to provide me so many amazing opportunities,” Bezear said. “Yet it’s so obscure here.”
That disparity was evident at worlds. The Canadian team, five men and five women, had to pay their own way due to the lack of funding at the national level.
Meanwhile, in Australia, bowling is on par with curling in Canada, maybe even more popular, Bezear said. That made the Canadian national team’s results — a silver and two bronze medals — all the more impressive.
“I think any medal for us was huge result,” said Bezear, who went into the world championships with high expectations, regardless. “When you put us up against Australia, which has funding in place, an institute for sport and this huge base of players, it’s pretty amazing what we were able to accomplish.”
Now, with a first Bowl Canada appearance under his belt, Bezear has his eyes set on earning a spot on the 2014 Commonwealth Games team, which will compete in Glasgow, Scotland.
Mission No. 1 is chasing down Canadian citizenship with not much time to spare.
“The Commonwealth Games is a dream for sure,” he said. “I can’t imagine walking out into the stadium with all these amazing athletes, and then us bowlers, too.”