UW News

March 30, 2011

Public health professor an expert in all things green

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine


Jefferson Park Lawn Bowling club offers lessons. The club will host the 2011 U.S. National championships in August.

Woodland Park’s lawn bowling club is open to the public.

Both clubs will host a June 4 Open House with free lessons.

Janice Bell, UW assistant professor of health services in the School of Public Health, studies “green neighborhoods” and how the spaces can help reduce obesity in the U.S. by day. But at night, and on the weekends, she studies the green space that is home to the sport known as lawn bowling.

Bell has become such an expert at the sport, in fact, that she was recently named to the national team and will represent the U.S. in Cyprus at the Atlantic Championships this October. Its an impressive role for the researcher/athlete, since she only started playing the game in 2007.

Green spaces researcher Janet Bell competes in lawn bowling at the U.S. National Championships last October in Arizona.

Green spaces researcher Janet Bell competes in lawn bowling at the U.S. National Championships last October in Arizona.David Wissmiller

How did Bell get involved with the somewhat obscure—at least in the United States—sport? Random geography is part of the answer. “Theres a green thats within a mile of my house, and thats how I got started,” she said, referencing the Jefferson Park Lawn Bowling Club.  “A friend of mine had joined.  I went out there one day and tried it, and instantly knew that I was going to be doing it for a long time.  It was such a fun sport.”

Lawn bowling is similar to curling, but is played on grass with an oblong-shaped ball.  “Theres a little bit of physics involved, so if you hit something one way, you have to consider which way the bowl is going to go,” said Bell. “And its like chess in that you have to anticipate your opponents moves, so youre setting up for your next shot and trying to anticipate what someone else is going to do.  Its low-impact physical activity and, at the same time, its a really complicated mental game.”

In the U.S., Bell said there are approximately 3,000 active bowlers.  In Australia, the figure is closer to one million.  “Its a huge sport over there, in the U.K. and Canada,” said Bell.  Countries like Malaysia hire lawn bowlers to play for national teams.

Richard Broad, a U.S. national champion who hails from the Woodland Park club near Green Lake in Seattle, said Bell is a real natural in the lawn bowling realm. “I dont know what Janice had been doing prior to lawn bowling,” he said.  “But it was like fitting a glove to somebody who has shown athletic and mental acumen for lawn bowling.”

Broad said that a big part of the sport is mental concentration, with players needing to calculate how much weight or heft to put behind a lawn bowl.  “It never goes in a straight line, and always goes in a curve,” he said.  “You need to think ahead a little bit like in chess, and think ahead to what moves your opponent might make.”

Bell said that one of her coaches describes the sport as 80 percent “mental” and 20 percent “physical” in terms of dedication to skills.  So theres a little power in positive thinking. “If you believe you can make a shot, you really can,” she said, with a smile.

So, does the fact that she has a Ph.D. help at all?  “I can see one parallel for sure, the one where you put your mind to something and you stay with it for a long time,” she said.  “It takes an ability to focus on a specific thing and train really hard. Its like being in graduate school in a way,” she said, with a chuckle.