Dad's legacy fuels his children's bid for glory at Commonwealth Games

Sophie Tolchard - a Team England star of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia

Sophie Tolchard - a Team England star of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia - Credit: Getty Images

Ray Tolchard’s inspirational sporting legacy is fuelling children Sam and Sophie’s pursuit of Commonwealth Games glory.

And Sam admits banishing his dual bronze medal demons would be the perfect way to do his dad proud almost two decades on from his passing in 2004.

Ray died aged 50 following a tragic battle with motor neurone disease having enjoyed a glittering sporting career.

He competed at Wimbledon as a junior tennis player, represented Devon at cricket and bowls and went on to umpire 40 first-class cricket matches between 1988 and 1992.

Daughter Sophie, who won Commonwealth gold in 2014, and Sam, a two-time bronze medallist, are following in his footsteps and reckon soaring to Birmingham nirvana would cap an emotional family fairytale.

Bowls star Sam Tolchard

Bowls star Sam Tolchard - Credit: Getty Images

Sam, 31, who lives in Newton Abbot and represents Kings Bowling Club, said: “He’s a huge inspiration.

“I was really lucky because all my sport - cricket, football, rugby, bowls - dad was always there. From when I was tiny, I always used to play whatever sport with him.

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“He was hard at times, but he’s the best teacher I’ve ever had in terms of sport – and I loved that more than anything.

“He was great and we were lucky to have him – he’s made us what we are today. Without him, I wouldn’t have done the things I’ve done, and Sophie’s the same.”

Sophie, 29, who lives in Paignton and also plays for Kings, added: “Dad was such an inspiration to Sam and I.

“We’re both lucky to come from a massive sporting family. He’s a massive inspiration to both of us – Sam was fortunate when he was younger to be able to play with my dad, and they often played competitions together.

“I know he’s got a lot of special memories of when they used to go off and play games together. It got competitive at times, but we’ve got really nice memories of him and he’ll always have a special place in our heart when we’re competing at a high level. We want to do it for him.”

The Tolchard family have lived and breathed sport throughout the generations. Tommy Tolchard, Sam and Sophie’s late grandfather, was an England bowls international while Roger and Jeff Tolchard, the pair’s uncles, both played first-class cricket for Leicestershire.

Roger, now 74, also played four Test matches for England in 1977, with the family’s sporting success laying the foundations for Sam and Sophie’s searing bowls rises.

Both are passionate about promoting the sport and were speaking ahead of Bowls’ Big Weekend on May 28-31, an innovative, nationwide initiative from Bowls England where 600 clubs nationwide will open their doors for people to try the sport for the first time.

Bowls is social, safe, secure and can be played in a socially-distanced manner, with its multiple benefits being showcased on the big stage next summer when Team England compete at a home Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Sophie earned triples gold in Glasgow in 2014 but Sam is yet to taste the top step of the Commonwealth podium.

He won bronze medals in 2014 and 2018 and with a shot at glory at Leamington Spa’s Victoria Park – the home of Bowls England – looming, he’s determined to shoot to the summit and send a home crowd into raptures for the first time.

“Those bronze medals are motivating me hugely,” he added.

“To be honest, I hate the colour bronze! It’s just a losers’ medal. Maybe when you get the first one it’s quite nice to get a medal, but I’ve lost in the semi-finals in every Commonwealth Games I’ve played.

“It’s obviously good to know that you can go far at those tournaments, but it’s about getting over the line, and that’s the hardest thing to do. It definitely fuels you on to want to put those wrongs right.”

Sophie, who was unable to emulate her Glasgow hegemony in the Gold Coast three years ago, added: “I’m really excited for next summer.

“It would just be amazing to win at a home Games – when you grow up, they’re the kind of things you dream of.”

“I’m massively patriotic – I love playing for England and I’ll watch any England team, so it’s amazing having the opportunity to be in this squad.

“Leamington Spa is the home of bowls and it will be amazing. It’s a completely different atmosphere – it’s that familiarisation with everything that you don’t have when you’re in a different country.

“Hopefully that will be a massive home advantage.”

Find your nearest participating club at www.bowlsbigweekend.com