When the man known as “golden hand” had his first medal draped around his neck at a Meatworks Sports competition, he thought he’d “made it”.
Now he could argue he really has done just that.
Mike Dowling was named New Zealand Indoor Bowls Volunteer of the Year and it is easy to see why.
He has served as the Gore Druids club president, selector and coach, Mataura RSA club president and vice-president, Eastern Southland sub-centre tournament convener and a delegate for the Southland sub-centre.
In his spare time he organised coaching sessions for St Peter’s College and Gore High School pupils.
On top of that he has a career playing for clubs, Eastern Southland and Southland spanning 60 years.
He was humbled to be recognised for his work in the sport, he said.
“I believe there was people that do as much as I do but I felt honoured,” Dowling said.
“I was surprised that people would see me as someone to nominate and people went to a lot of effort to do that.
“But I do it for the love of the sport and I couldn’t do it without the support of my wife, Noleen encourages me.”
He did not believe anyone from Southland had won the award before.
Eastern Southland sub-centre chairman Peter Morris said Dowling’s contribution was outstanding.
“He’s done amazing .. He volunteers to help with everything indoor bowls related.
“He’s an indoor bowls enthusiast,” Morris said.
He started playing indoor bowls as a 14-year-old with his parents Mary and Reg in Invercargill before moving to Gore in 1967.
After several clubs folded, he joined Mataura with his colleagues from the meat-processing works.
He still played with one of them to this day – Maree Swain.
“We still bowl together. She inspires me to keep going.”
A Southland representative from 1976 to 1992, he was part of the Southland Welch Trophy team that competed in the North Island.
But his fondest memory came by chance when he visited his sister, Maureen Preston, in Invercargill.
They put a team together with his niece Michelle Preston and his friend Doug Grant to compete in the New Zealand Mixed Fours in 1988 and won the Southland zone.
“It was really lovely winning with my sister and my niece,” he said.
Coaching high school pupils brought his passion to a new level.
“When they leave school, they can always come back to bowls.
“It’s a sport for a lifetime, the rules don’t change and I try and do my bit for the next generation.”
The Druids club life member said it was the challenge that had kept him going for so long.
“I love the competitiveness .. You’ve always got at least two bowls .. You always want to beat and improve on the last one.”
Come April, he would be back to playing three times a week and coaching throughout the region, he said.