28 February 2019
Neilson comes full circle and hopes to inspire new generation
When she casts her first stone of the 2019 World Wheelchair Curling Championships, Aileen Neilson may just take a second to wonder if she’s inadvertently inspiring her protégé.
Back in 2005, the 47-year-old was part of the crowd as Scotland made the most of home advantage to win gold in Braehead, fuelling her dream to become an international competitor herself.
Neilson went on to win a bronze medal with Great Britain at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi and as she prepares to compete at her ninth World Championships – this time at the Peak, Stirling – the Scotland skip is hoping to provide any potential stars of the future with the same kind of inspiration that the class of 2005 stoked in her.
“I’d just started a few months before and got to know the team, so when I went along to watch the game and then see them win a gold medal, that was certainly my moment when I thought that I’d like to be involved, rather than watching,” said Neilson.
I was inspired in 2005 and I hope that we can do the same."
Neilson in action at PyeongChang 2018
“If people watch the games and hear about the sport, hopefully we’ll inspire a few more people to take it up.”
Neilson became the first woman to skip a wheelchair curling match in both the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver and 2011 World Championships in Prague.
Her career as a primary school teacher may have been placed on the back-burner due to on-ice matters but the East Kilbride native still finds plenty of opportunities to inspire the next generation in a direct manner, too.
“Three years prior to Sochi, I took a career break and I’m still training as an athlete full-time,” said Neilson.
“Although I did go into schools and do talks around the indoor curling game, and just try to inspire and motivate them, not just through my curling career but also through my life as well.
“It’s about explaining about disability and what people can do, rather than what they can’t do – these are lessons that anyone can learn, whether it’s ‘hard work brings success’ or ‘you can learn from failure’.
Aileen Neilson and Hugh Nibloe
There’s lots of messages that I’ve learned from wheelchair curling that I can take back into the classroom when I do go back in.”
Scotland’s 2019 campaign gets under way on Sunday, with a clash with Switzerland first on the menu for Neilson and teammates Robert McPherson, Hugh Nibloe, David Melrose and Gary Logan.
The Championships will also involve 12 teams for the first time but the Scottish skip isn’t placing any extra pressure on her side’s collective shoulders as they deal with the added weight of being the host nation.
Neilson said: “I think we have to use that to our advantage, you know? We’re really lucky that we can compete at a Worlds on home soil and we need to really cherish that, relish it and really enjoy it.
“Every athlete wants to be on the podium but our first goal is to get through the round robin and get through to the next stage – it’s really just one game at a time, one stone at a time.
“It’s quite a different format but we can’t really control that. We just have to look at the schedule and control what we come.
“We have to just go out there and focus, and deal with what we can deal with. We can’t control the opposition.”
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