The 25-mile round trip made by Bourne bowling sensation Ruby Hill (16) is proving to be an increasingly worthwhile one when you consider the talent surrounding her.
Spalding and District Indoor Bowls Club (IBC) can boast of reigning national singles champions Martin Spencer and Annie Dunham who made history in Melton Mowbray two months ago when the players from the same club took the English singles titles for the first time.
The club, based at Spalding’s Castle Sports Complex, is also home to England under-25 international Chelsea Tomlin who was part of the triples team with Annie and Rebecca Simpson that reached the national final last year.
Ruby said: “I can learn by watching everyone else’s games and you get to learn how to play against them
“But the real reason for joining Spalding IBC was that the club brings young people up by playing against the older bowlers who have more experience.
“You have juniors playing with England internationals and they really bring you on, teaching us how to play in a good way so you can go further in the sport.
“The older players get on well with the younger players and you feel more comfortable with them helping you as you get to know them.”
Ruby’s quiet, unassuming personality gives you no clues as to her growing reputation in the sport, as confirmed at last month’s Spalding IBC finals weekend from which the Bourne Academy GCSE student carried off a total of four trophies.
The ladies’ pairs was captured with Chelsea, Ruby then teamed up with Matt Whyers to lift the mixed pairs, formed a winning partnership with Harry Mycock in the junior pairs and completed the set with the League Cup Bowling Stones junior singles crown.
“It’s been the best year of my life after going to the Commonwealth Youth Games in Western Samoa last September,” Ruby said.
It feels really good to be playing a sport in which I’m supported and encouraged to do the best that I canRuby Hill of Bourne Academy, Royal Mail Cart and Spalding Indoor Bowls Clubs
“Representing England at bowls was something I always wanted to do and to play in a big competition like the Commonwealth Youth Games showed me that there are a lot of young bowlers playing the sport.”
Ruby’s love of bowls was born by watching her older brother Rhys and grand-father both taking to the lawn when she was seven.
Jane Hill, Ruby’s mother, said: “She used to sit and watch them until she was desperate to get on the green herself.
“When her brother went to an open day at Spalding IBC, Ruby decided to get involved as well and she started to be coached there.”
Ruby added: “I kept on playing and practicing for a couple of years and then, when I was 11, I got asked to play in a mixed fours team with some of the older players who went on to play for England.
One of the senior bowlers who played an influential role in Ruby’s development was Spalding’s Ben Wilson who together won the Gareth Hicks Memorial Trophy, a charity event at Spalding IBC when the Bourne youngster was just nine.
Ruby said: “It was the first thing I’d ever won and I was quite overwhelmed.
“I remember bursting into tears when we presented with our trophy and after that, I got involved in competitions at club level where I became part of the junior section.
“That progressed to qualifying for the Lincolnhire team and trying to get recognised enough to be nominated by the club for a place at the Bowls England School of Excellence.”
In 2011, Ruby came second to Lincoln’s Harry Cain in the 14 and under County Singles Championship before acquitting herself well at the National Junior Skills event in Melton Mowbray.
A year later and Ruby found herself playing alongside Rhys for Spalding IBC in the county league, but it was a coaching day with 15-time world champion Tony Allcock when the then 12-year-old Ruby won a Bowls England bag as the youngest player that paved the way for what was to come.
Ruby said: “I learned exercises such as drawing to the centre line, playing with weight and drawing to the edge of a ditch at the school of excellence.
“When I was runner-up in the county 14 and under singles, it got me recognised by the England selectors and eventually I was asked to trial for the England under-18 team in 2013.
“It was the biggest thing I’d ever done up to that point because I was put together with people who I didn’t really know to see how I got on with them and whether I could be part of the team.
“I was marked on every bowl that I did and where it landed, but I also got to learn how other juniors played and what kind of shots I should use.
“It brought me on and even though I didn’t get selected the first time, one of the selectors told me ‘keep going and you’ll get there next year’.”
In 2014, Ruby joined clubmate Jordan Philpott in helping England to victory in the under-18 British Isles Championships in Scotland after losing out to Jordan in the Spalding IBC under-18 singles final.
Then in 2015, Ruby lifted the outdoor county singles title, reached the national semi-final, helped Spalding IBC win the National Mixed Top Club title for the first time in its history and bowled for England at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Western Samoa.
Ruby said: “It was an amazing opportunity just to be shortlisted and I was originally a reserve for Western Samoa.
“I was so happy, but then something happened to Chloe Wordingham (of Northamptonshire) who was supposed to go and I was called up.”
Jane said: “Ruby really surprised me and it was fantastic to see how much it made her grow in confidence.
“It brought her out of her shell because she learned how to converse with both people in her age group and older bowlers as well.”
Ruby’s achievements in reaching the semi-finals of the girls singles and the last eight of the mixed pairs, with Bradley Coles of Hertfordshire, saw her nominated in the Outstanding Sporting Achievement category at last year’s Lincolnshire Free Press/Spalding Guardian Education Awards.
Lucy Conley, deputy headteacher of Bourne Academy, said: “As well as being a highly academic and hard-working student, Ruby has excelled in her chosen sport of bowls.
“Ruby has had to keep on top of her studies, whilst competing at a very high level in this sport.”
Meanwhile, Ellen Falkner who was with Ruby and Bradley in Western Samoa said: “Ruby impressed throughout the selection process and I have no doubt that she will have benefited greatly from the experience.
“Alongside Bradley, Ruby was a tremendous ambassador for Bowls England in Western Samoa.”
As for the future, Ruby shows no signs of letting up after becoming the youngest-ever winner of the Lincolnshire under-18 singles title in April.
The teenager has also been called up for the England under-18 team to play in the Aberdeen International Series in October when she will partner Norfolk’s Aaron Johnson in pairs, also joining the fours team with Ryan Nash (Dorset), Liam Harris (Suffolk) and Adam Pitfield (Northants).
Ruby said: “It feels really good to be playing a sport in which I’m supported and encouraged to do the best that I can.
“I got a boost playing singles in Western Samoa and I’d love to be able to play for England at the Commonwealth Games in the future.
“I’d also like to play in the World Championships and, hopefully, I’ll be able to progress through the England under-25 and senior teams.
“This would mean that I’ve progressed to the elite squad where all the ages are put together and where the coaching is a big part of getting to know where you can improve your skills.”