A chance visit to a dietician four years ago turned Matthew Flapper’s life around and set him on course to realise his Commonwealth Games dream.
The former Ballarat and now Ocean Grove-based Flapper was tipping the scales at 155kg, and working as a greenkeeper and had a lifestyle far closer to that of a barefoot bowler on a Saturday afternoon than a top-class athlete.
It was only when his wife Linda was referred to a specialist and Flapper decided to tag along, that he was confronted with the reality check he needed.
“Back then I weighed in at 155kg, so it was stupid if I didn’t go. It was probably the penny dropping moment for me. I walked into her office and she looked at me and she goes ‘You need to be here’,” said Flapper, who began his bowling life at Creswick and later also played with Central Wendouree.
“From that moment, we left her office, and everything changed. Our lifestyle, our diet, exercise and in total I dropped 63kg and my wife dropped about 40kg, so it was just over 100kg between us in about seven months.”
Flapper is making his Commonwealth Games debut, skipping men’s triples fours.
Despite being a first-timer, the 35-year-old is a senior member of Australia’s 17-strong lawn bowls team in Scotland.
It’s a position he admits he would never have been in had he not resolved to knock off well over a third of his body weight in 2010.
“Carrying that weight I was struggling to get through a day of bowls, let alone weeks on end. Knee trouble, ankles...I was popping painkillers to get through games,” Flapper said.
“It was a case for me that if you want to play at the highest level it’s time to do something about it but it wasn’t only that. You can add 15, 20, 30 years to your life hopefully.
“It’s funny as you progress and lose it, you lose 10 kilos and you pick up something that weighs 10 kilos and say ‘Bloody hell, I was carrying that around’. When I’d lost 40kg, I went down to the gym and picked up a 40kg cowbell. I was like ‘fair dinkum, how the hell can you carry that?’”
Flapper was a very good player at his top weight. He has played close to 300 games for Victoria in a decorated state career and was on the verge of national selection even as he ballooned out.
But he realised that he needed to make drastic changes to how he approached the sport if he wanted to make the most of his ability.
“I thought my opportunity to play for Australia was gone,” he said.
“Obviously it’s probably more of a younger man’s game now as funny as that sounds. You look at our side and the average age is just over 30. I’m 35 and I thought ‘I’m 35, maybe my chance has passed but I’ll have one last crack at it’.
“I was the greenkeeper in a bowling club in Ballarat and the greenkeeper’s lifestyle is pretty cruisy.
“It’s just eat what you want, drink what you want when you want. I didn’t know any different, not what I know now as far as health and how good you feel when you’ve lost the weight.”
Much has been made of the heavy greens in Glasgow and how lawn bowlers the Commonwealth over have been busy trying to adapt to conditions very different to what they’re used to.
The Australians are using wider-drawing bowls than they would at home and extra conditioning has been vital to their preparation.
“Back home, about seven or eight weeks on end, I was in the gym every night working on core strength to try and be the best you can be when you get here.
“Upper body strength on greens like this is pretty important. You’ve got to be fit and strong.”
Flapper has put back on a little of the weight he lost – and the offerings in the dining room at the athletes’ village are hard to resist – but he is more content than ever.
“I’ll be honest I got down to 93kg and probably for me it was a bit too much,” he said. “I started to look a bit gaunt and skinny in the face. I’ve got back up to about the 100kg mark and I feel good with myself. I can carry it because I’ve got the build for it.”
There was a time when stepping to the top of the podium might have been an ordeal, but if Flapper wins gold in Glasgow he’ll be up there in a heartbeat.