Rising star Tom Dowan has found his calling in the little known sport of boccia.
The teenager only turned to the game three years ago after discovering it at ‘give-it-a-go’ day, run by his local council in Gloucestershire. However, aged just 16, he is already twice a national champion, having retained his English BC3 pairs crown alongside partner Ryan Paladino on November 25th.
Bar Dowan’s two gold medals, which hang proudly in his bedroom alongside a cluster of silvers, the Wakefield born youngster is like any other 16 year old.
He is a self-confessed sports “buff”, with a passion for cricket, darts and football (although as a Liverpool fan, perhaps isn’t enjoying the season as much as other fans). He spends his spare time reading, playing video games and is studying A-Levels in English literature, English language, philosophy and psychology.
Having been born with spinal muscular atrophy type two, leading to the underdevelopment of muscles, Dowan had always been desperate to be an athlete, but it wasn’t until he was introduced to boccia that he finally found “the one”.
“It has completely changed my life, in pretty much every way possible,” he admits frankly.
“As clichéd as it sounds, I have a calling now. I had always longed to be an athlete, as I have been as sports buff since I was little. In boccia, I have a sport in which I could be the best.
“It was awesome to finally have that, and I love the game itself, not just being able to play at a high level but the intricacy, the tactics and all that it encompasses. Once you’re hooked it’s hard to let go.”
The sport was propelled into the public eye during September, as Paralympic Fever swept over a sun-drenched nation during London 2012.
It is not dissimilar to crown green bowls, except it’s exclusively for athletes with cerebral palsy or motor skills disabilities.
Each participant, team or pair is given six balls which they must land as close to a jack as possible, either through throwing, kicking or through the use of a ramp.
At the ExCeL Centre on the banks of the Thames, the London crowd took boccia to heart during the Games, greeting each good shot with rapturous applause and showing great respect for the intensity of this enthralling sport.
Dowan didn’t compete in London, but he is well on track to achieving his next goal as he targets the Rio Games in 2016.
Having previously been selected for the Great Britain talent squad and represented England, the youngster, who has adopted a Liverpool shirt as his kit, is on the radar of the national selectors.
In Brazil, he could come up against Greg Polychronidis, the gold medal winning Greek from London, who, like Dowan, was born with spinal muscular atrophy and also uses a ramp to play the game.
“I’m incredibly hungry for it,” he continued.
“I can’t say whether I should or will be there, but I can assure you that I will work my hardest to get there.
“Being involved in the talent pool and going to train last year has just fuelled that fire inside me more than ever!”
The work has already started for Rio and in the aftermath of this year’s Games, the teenager can’t help but notice the incredible effect they’ve had on disability sport in the UK.
“London has done wonders for disability awareness in general,” he hails.
“You are a fantastic example of the games captivating the imagination of some, which is phenomenal. It is a great time to be a disabled citizen and athlete.”
Indeed, Dowan’s claim is backed up by the shortlist for 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, which featured three disability athletes; swimmer Ellie Simmonds, wheelchair racer David Weir and cyclist Sarah Storey.
The motto for London 2012 was to “Inspire A Generation”, and sports like boccia certainly do that by providing so many opportunities for disabled athletes to compete in sport.
Such inclusion highlights exactly why events such as the Paralympic Games are so important to Great Britain. They helped lift the nation, with the achievements and success of athletes against the odds showcasing exactly what is great about sport.
Tom Dowan is no different to any other 16 year old boy. He wants to achieve, he wants to be a sport star. Sports like boccia and events such as London 2012 help him and thousands of others do that, and for that he is thankful.