By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
Before the Sun Life tower was staking its claim on the Kitchener-Waterloo skyline, lawn bowling was sowing its first seeds of inspiration with Darryl Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald does not remember much about the old Mutual Life Lawn Bowling Club, which used to sit around the same spot where the Sun Life tower now looms over King and Union streets.
What he does remember is the lush grass and some of the old Mutual Life employees who would spend their free time on the pitch before moving over to the Kitchener Lawn Bowling Club.
It was there that Fitzgerald, through his dad Don, met dedicated bowlers Carl Thiel and Al Baddeley. They all helped cultivate Fitzgerald’s eventual love affair with lawn bowling, even if he was resistant at first.
“It’s eerie,” said Fitzgerald, who also works in the insurance business as the manager of savings and retirement operations at Equitable Life in Waterloo. “I used to tell my dad that I wouldn’t go into the insurance business and I wouldn’t lawn bowl.
“But I followed him in his career and in bowls, and it’s worked out in both areas.”
Resistance was futile for the now 32-year-old Fitzgerald, a coach and player out of the Heritage Greens Lawn Bowling Club in Kitchener.
By his late teens, when his interest in baseball and basketball had waned, the Grand River Collegiate grad started to dabble in lawn bowling. Three years later, he was hooked when his first district playdown rolled around.
It is a passion that Fitzgerald never thought would take him across Canada and even over the Pacific Ocean as a playing member of Bowls Canada.
Last month, that meant taking his game out to Victoria, B.C., for the North American Challenge, a competitive training event for members of the Canadian and American national teams.
But there was more than bragging rights to bowl for as the Canadian side rolled over the Americans to claim all seven divisional titles up for grabs in men’s and women’s play.
Fitzgerald, who played strictly in threes and fours events, did particularly well with his teams, too, finishing with a 4-1-1 record against the Americans.
“The pressure is so much greater,” said Fitzgerald, who has also bowled for Canada at events in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China. “But I find that the group of international players that I met and played against were just super nice.
“They loved to see, I guess, us young guys out there playing against them and playing well, being competitive . . . They gave us the warmest welcome.”
The experience with Bowls Canada has given Fitzgerald the motivation to keep playing at a high level, especially with the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, on the horizon.
Aside from the World Bowls Championship, the Commonwealth Games are a pinnacle event for bowlers, especially when the atmosphere of a multi-sport spectacle is factored in.
Just to be in consideration for Team Canada, Fitzgerald expects a lot of hard work on top of his already hectic professional work schedule. He needs plenty of repetition and practice, not just games, something he learned from former national team coach Lachlan Tighe.
“It’s all about delivery, touch and technique,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not like five- or 10-pin bowling where you’re whipping it down the alley.”
But at this point, it is all gravy.
“When I started playing, I thought it would be a nice hobby to share with my dad,” said Fitzgerald, who still makes time to playing a few tournaments each year with his dad. “I thought I’d play maybe once a week, do some junior stuff and meet friends.
“Now I’m looking for any patch of grass I can find to train over the winter.”