Life After Commonwealth Games for Para Triples Champions

by Kalon Huett (BV Contributor)

For BCiB Australia Jackaroos para pair and 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallists Joshua Thornton and Ken Hanson, life after professional para bowls is set to be rosy.

Almost 18 months on from that clutch final victory on the Gold Coast – where they famously claimed Para Triples gold alongside teammate Tony Bonnell – the successful pair have both decided to retire from national duty and embrace the next chapters of their lives.

Future plans

“It’s been a hectic three-to-four years. Not only have I been lucky enough to represent my country numerous times, get selected for the Commonwealth Games and then win gold, but I have also got married and moved to Swan Hill with (wife) Kelli and little (one-year-old son) Jesse,” says Thornton. 

“It’s not easy trying to juggle everything and representing your country is a big commitment. For me it’s time to put family first for a while, so it’s not necessarily forever. I’ll miss the camaraderie with the entire Jackaroos HP team and playing at the highest level, but I’ll get my competitive fix playing bowls locally and in an odd tournament here and there,” he says.

“I started working for the AFL Central Murray up here looking after all the football and netball umpires which I am loving. I will also look to finish my Masters of Sports Management at La Trobe University by the end of next year. From a bowls perspective, I have taken on the role as Murray Downs Bowls Club coach, it’ll be great to play for the club and hopefully enjoy some success.”

As Thornton’s senior by around three decades, Hanson’s international bowls retirement is almost certainly more permanent. However, the 69-year-old has no intention of walking away from competitive bowls altogether.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time but I’ll be turning 70 in November so having worked hard for a few years I decided that will probably do for me,” says Hanson. “I’ve played quite a lot of bowls up in Tweed Heads this year and I was lucky enough to win the Disability Singles and Pairs at the Australian Open, so my understanding is I’ll be invited back to play again next year. I still play Pennant bowls at home in Colac and up north with Tweed Heads, and I’ll also be playing in the Australian Open Pairs with the famous Lucas Protopapas.”

Pride, passion and partnership

While Thornton and Hanson are looking forward to a future away from the spotlight, both men have nothing but fond memories of their para bowls experiences with the Jackaroos. 

“I look at it this way, I reckon nearly every kid growing up who has a passion or interest in sport would dream of representing their country in one way or another, so I feel lucky and proud,” says Thornton. “The highlights have been the friends I have made along the way with my fellow para teammates, to the rest of the Jackaroos squad and our coaching staff in Steve Glasson, Gary Willis, Peter Brown and Kelvin Kerkow. I feel like they will all be lifelong friends and I definitely share a special bond with Ken and Tony.”

“I’m really proud to have been part of the Jackaroos squad, they’re a fantastic group of people led by coach Steve Glasson and everybody involved,” says Hanson.

“The first time I met Josh was a long time ago when he was only 13 or 14 and I played against him at Corowa. He was only a little fella but he’s always had a marvellous delivery, especially considering his disability with his delivery hand. We kept in touch over the years so when we were both selected in the national squad we gelled immediately. We play a similar style of bowls and we understand each other’s game so that was a big advantage.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Thornton. “Ken and I have become great mates along the journey. In a way I’m indebted to him, because without his final end I might be talking about silver instead of gold,” he says.

Glorious gold

As for that incredible achievement at the Commonwealth Games, Thornton and Hanson are still beaming with joy. 

“From a sporting perspective, it’s the best moment in my life. It was always a dream to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and I was lucky enough to accomplish it,” says Thornton. “Looking back now it’s still very humbling and I am very proud of the feat, not only for myself but for my family who were part of the journey and were able to share it with me throughout the entire campaign.”

“For someone who never ever thought he would even be competing in a Commonwealth Games, winning gold was fairly unexpected, although by the time the competition started I actually thought we had a good chance as we’d been practising well for a long time,” says Hanson. “It was a very fulfilling experience to get out there and win a gold medal for my country.”