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As she contends for a place in the wheelchair curling team that will represent Paralympics GB in Beijing next year, Meggan Dawson-Farrell is surrounded by impressive female role models, but none of them have been as influential in her life as her mum.

The 27-year-old from Tullibody, who was a poster girl at the 2014 Commonwealth Games when she competed for Scotland as a track athlete, switched sports two years ago and is now seeking to follow in the wheel tracks of both Aileen Neilson, who has skipped Paralympics GB and Scotland to medal success at Paralympics and World Championships and Angie Malone, who was awarded the MBE 4 years ago for her services to the sport. 

Since her selection to the elite programme, Dawson-Farrell has also worked closely with Sheila Swan, British Curling’s Paralympic Head Coach, who was a member of Jackie Lockhart’s Women’s World Championships winning rink in 2002.

However, in reflecting on her sporting career on International Women’s Day, Dawson-Farrell says there has never been any doubt that she owes everything to the strength of character of the woman who has fought for her, quite literally from the day that she was born with Spina Bifida.

“Starting out, life could have been very different,” she explained.

“My mum was very young when she was pregnant with me and due to my health complications, she was advised after my birth to give me up for adoption because I had complex health needs. Her response was no and that she would deal with whatever lies ahead.

“If she could have been told that she was having a child that was going to the Paralympics one day that would really prove a point to many in the world.”

That support proved transformative once again when Dawson –Farrell was a 16-year-old who was struggling to make friends. Admitting she would never have signed up for the residential training camp at Inverclyde that properly introduced her to sport if mum Kirstie had not pushed her into attending, she consequently now sees giving her best as an opportunity for some payback.

“My sporting career is also really thanks to my mum. She was the catalyst in a chain of events that saw me competing as an athlete at a Commonwealth Games in a summer sport and also now as a wheelchair curler in a Winter sport,” said Dawson-Farrell, who competed at her first World Championships for Scotland last year, just before lockdown.

“To prove that I was capable of competing at a Paralympic Games would be amazing for her… to know she had raised a Paralympian. I was such a quiet child and didn’t have any friends for me then to be performing on a world stage albeit I was terrified on the inside though I was not showing it on the outside. The adventure of travelling to another country and competing there is something I had not imagined possible when I was younger.”

To this day, mum is always on hand to provide motivation.

“She always says to me ‘Train as if you are going (to the Paralympics) and if not just keep training until the next one comes around^. It is a continual cycle and inspires me every day and I am sure every athlete either winter/ or summer feels the same way, training in the hope of getting to the next Olympics or Paralympic Games.

“Getting selected to compete is an achievement in itself and we all train so hard in order to get selected. Mum’s mantra goes through my mind all the time and maybe it won’t be my time this time around, but all I can do at the moment is to focus on that because I might put myself in contention for next time. There are always opportunities on the horizon and so that keeps my training focused and motivates me in the event that might happen.” 

While competing for Scotland in Glasgow in 2014 was one of the proudest moments in her life, Dawson-Farrell has gained even more from her involvement in curling, revelling in the team environment in which she is universally known as Woody.

“I was involved in athletics which is a very individual sport – you are on your own. In curling you are part of a team and having that camaraderie in this sport makes it so much more enjoyable.

“Waking up early getting to train on ice and being surrounded by my squad mates makes it so much more enjoyable,” she said.

The impact on her self-belief is reflected in her determination to be a sporting champion in every sense.

“The Paralympic Games are so important for younger children with disabilities,” said Dawson-Farrell. “When I was younger I was watching the Paralympics and thinking why can’t I do that? Going through what I went through – being able to see athletes with the same disability as me – you need that. It shows you what you can do and what you are capable of. You just have to find a way. No-one should be told no they can’t do that.

“Not having sport provision when I was at school tells me that every child should get a chance to take part in sport, either for competitive reasons or for fun. The 2012 Paralympics saw so much progression and more support for the movement and that should not tail off now because of the pandemic or any other reasons. We need to get more and more support and there will be more athletes out there who can achieve and take part in future Games and they need to know that is possible. Every day I am on the programme I am grateful for the support I am receiving – even when I am dying in a training session.”

The way that Paralympians can inspire youngsters was driven home at the biggest event in the annual global sporting calendar this year when a Toyota advert featuring 13-time Paralympic gold medallist Jessica Long drew acclaim. The parallels with the story of the American swimmer who was adopted by parents who knew that she had been born with a condition that meant her legs would have to be amputated are clear and Dawson-Farrell is desperate for the chance to contribute similarly.

“It is my Paralympic dream,” she said. 

“It would be amazing to be inspiring another generation of athletes coming through. It is amazing that we are now seeing disability in adverts like the one at the Superbowl. We should not be hidden, we should be featured as much as anyone else. It is really important for young kids to see that and to know they have the same opportunities as others. I don’t see why we should not be considered and featured more.

“The Paralympics in London got some traction and hopefully this continues and snowballs and more opportunities come out of this. I would love to see someone like me helping kids to get involved in my sport and help shape the journey of others in this sport.”

None of that, however, would have been possible without the woman who continues to provide her with the drive required to compete in elite sport.

“The determination and will power I get from my mum and I am always determined to do better each day in sport,” said Dawson-Farrell.

“I get annoyed at myself if I am not making shots at the ice rink, but I always want to keep plugging away. I just have to keep at it and not give up.”

Images: PPA Graeme Hart

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