Silver at Home World Champs Makes It a Year To Remember For Wheelchair Team
New recruits joined the British Curling wheelchair squad at the start of the 2018-19 season and with the prospect of a home World Championships on the horizon in Stirling, there were both targets and expectations for the host team to deliver for Scotland in their first year together.
Skip Aileen Neilson reflecting on the year that saw her compete at her ninth World Championships said that each and every one of the new recruits brought a new dynamism to the squad and to the eventual line-up that was chosen and made the podium at the world’s biggest curling event last season.
“Having fresh blood and new people in the squad meant we were all learning something new from each other. The squad truly represented a complete mix of experiences and those different pathways into the sport changed the squad dynamic as we bounced new ideas off each other.
“It was a really refreshing start to the Beijing Paralympic cycle after the disappointment of not medalling in PyeongChang and with Sheila (Swan – Head Wheelchair Coach) opting for a late selection for the worlds, it meant that everyone had a good chance of making their mark and making the team,” Neilson said.
There were fewer events and subsequent travel in the schedule ahead of the Worlds as the new squad members adjusted to the routine of the programme, focusing on training, gym sessions, nutrition, as well as utilising many of the other services available from sportscotland institute of sport.
“We started this cycle differently, focusing on the technical aspect of our game and our delivery to really help build solid foundations and consolidate that work to get greater consistency. When we did compete we didn’t perform that well and we came away feeling that we had lots of work to do.
“That process fuelled the training and there was lots of reviewing and with hindsight that really paid off.
“It is not always easy to peak at the right time and you really need to be ready for 14 games over eight days at a world champs. The prospect of a home Worlds in Stirling next door to the National Curling Academy (NCA) where we train definitely boosted everyone. Every squad member was pushing each other on, so whilst only five made the team the others played a part in our progression and development and ultimately our result.
“For me it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to compete in front of friends and family and a home crowd and I had never experienced anything like it in my previous eight world champs. Being a spectator at the last worlds in Scotland in 2005 was my inspiration and if I managed to inspire one person to get involved in the game after our performance in Stirling, then that is a medal in itself for me.
Moving forward, Neilson has high hopes for the squad chosen for the year ahead, as Scotland traded their world bronze in 2017 for silver in 2019.
“We all learned a lot from the last year and that can be taken forward for the future. It was also great to get our games live streamed and hopefully we will continue to get more profile for wheelchair curling around the world which will really help stimulate more interest and participation in Paralympic sport.
“My time out this year from the programme will enable me to focus on other projects and I am really excited about playing in a Mixed Doubles Wheelchair Curling test event in Stirling next month (5-7 July),” she said.
Her hinterland as a former primary teacher and Level 1 coach as well as an elite athlete, will see her pursue more school visits, motivating the next generation, as well as exploring other new avenues in the sport. The Sochi Paralympic bronze medal skip will be partnered by Paralympic silver medallist and two times World Champion, Michael McCreadie, for that test event, before the pair head to New Zealand for a month.
“Since 2001 there has been only one discipline for wheelchair curling, so it will be great to see how Mixed Doubles can be developed and provide a different type of opportunity. It has the potential to really help wheelchair curling grow around the world, especially in countries that may not have teams yet but can get pairs. We will be part of an event in New Zealand called ‘Welcome to the World’, which again is about getting more people to try the sport in a competition format, as they enter as individuals and not teams. The event is hosted in a different country each year and is about offering curlers the opportunity to travel, tour and curl with others who share a passion for the game of curling.
“It is an exciting year ahead, the squad is in a good place moving forwards and it will be my first time away from the squad in 14 years. I guess it is a kind of belated student gap year, but without the back-packing and roughing it element,” she joked.
Photos: ParalympicsGB, Perthshire Picture Agency, Graeme Hart.