It never seems to make a difference how long it has been since I was in my homeland – I find great comfort and familiarity in being here – like I have never been away. If I could bottle up Scottish air and Scottish water and bring them back to Canada, I definitely would…..maybe a couple of mountains to add to the scenery of Saskatchewan, too.
Darby and I jump in our hire car – which is a brand new white Skoda, little sporty model, so we are able to zip around the bendy roads as we head for the east coast. We listen to our country playlist so we don’t feel too far from home – Darby sings ‘Diggin up bones’ and John Mayer’s, ‘In The Blood’ and we throw in a little ‘Coulter’s Candy’ to change things up.
We get settled at Nai Nai’s house and Darby is happy that all of his toys are still where he left them and he is reunited with his little friend – Katoh, the dog. Katoh was my gift to mum when I left to come to Canada 6 years ago. Seems like a fair replacement as this little Shih Tzu doesn’t tell mum what to do, doesn’t thinks she knows better, and doesn’t talk back!
Within 48 hours, I am driving 90 miles to Stirling – training destination for the duration of my stay. This city is famous as it is where the battle of the first war of Scottish independence took place. On September 11, 1297, William Wallace (and crew) defeated the English and to commemorate this Scottish hero, a 67-metre tower, known as the Wallace Monument, was erected. It is an architectural phenomenon – you can climb the 246 steps to the top of the open air crown which provides panoramic views of the Ochill Hills and Forth Valley.
Stirling was home to me for 12 years; I attended university and never left, so it is exciting for me to return there, and it’s where many of my friends still remain. Stirling is also home of the Sportscotland Scottish Institute of Sport – national agency for high performance sport where we access funding and expertise to support our athletic needs. It is also the location of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club – our Scottish governing body.
Curling in July – who would have thought…but what better way to kick off the season than training in a Brand New National Curling Academy. A £3.15 million facility where Scottish, GB, Paralympic athletes and community players can access ice all year round. This type of facility has been in the pipeline for many years now, but thanks to Stirling Council and Sportscotland, we have a first class facility with first class ice conditions in which to train.
Often, we train on ice that flips to skating ice at the weekend, so it makes it difficult to prepare quality ice for curling in the time frame available to the ice makers. Having this type of facility dedicated to curling is a milestone for the game and shows true dedication to the development of the sport.
A day in the life
Typically, I would stay with my skipper, Eve, in Stirling from Tuesday – Thursday and travel 180 miles round trip Friday –Monday, so Darby didn’t think I totally abandoned him. Most of the team stay in Stirling, too, which is handy for the 7am gym sessions and 6pm finishes.
We have a jam packed first week – Individual and Team ice sessions twice a day, strength and conditioning daily, and then access to our physio, doctor, nutritionist, psychologist, notational analyst, and any other athlete services as needed. It’s a fantastic set-up; for a sports person, it’s a bit like a kid in a sweetie shop – so much on offer and not sure what to grab off the shelf first.
First day of on ice training and our Head coach, Tony, asks me how interested I am in scrapping my old curling delivery and making some new changes….? I thought…Well, no f#cking about here – this coach is serious about making this team the very best it can be. Clearly, I concluded, that there was no time like the present to fully embrace any opportunity to improve my play.
Luckily for me, I transitioned through a few eras of the curling delivery – I was a ‘swinger’ when I first started curling, I won my first junior championship with this delivery and then somewhere in the early 2000’s, swinging was no longer cool and the ‘no lift delivery’ became the norm – likely because the swing delivery was used back in the day to hurl that stone up the very slow ice conditions.
Anyway, individual ice sessions in the month of August was all about retraining my body and my brain to adapt to a more solid, physiologically stable delivery with the ultimate goal – naturally, to develop a platform for more consistency in shot making. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? I enjoyed this experience and I am pleased to say that I have benefited from these changes.
What I find refreshing, is that despite the origins of the sport being hundreds of years old, we are still prepared to dissect “the tried and trusted” techniques in order to advance our sport. I think it is important as an athlete to always be looking for the small margins that may help you become better – in whatever area that may be. You need to be open to development and change.
Our team sessions included fine tuning our strategy, competition against other teams and between ourselves, sweeping, and establishing processes for our team, both on and off the ice. These are only a few areas that we worked on and I won’t go in to detail on any of this, as it is of course – TOP SECRET – with only 6 months until the Olympic Games.
Glen Howard, our coach, also made the trip over to Scotland from Ontario for some training time – teacher by day, and tourist by night – he did climb the 246 steps to the top of the Wallace monument.
It was Darby’s 3rd birthday on Saturday, August 5th – I was training all week, so luckily Mum had everything organized by the time I arrived home on Friday night. She had a little party for him and some little friends from around the area came to celebrate with us. No party would be the same without a bouncy castle and an outdoor Scottish party wouldn’t exist without a little rain! I was grateful that mum made it a special day for him, and we managed to FaceTime Daddy and Gramma and Grampa back home, too. He was also learning some new Scottish words and making some new friends at the Nursery (daycare) he was going to for a couple of mornings a week.
Training and Support continued…
The next couple of weeks of training went smoothly, and as a team, we were hammering out personal bests for our 1 rep max’s in the gym and literally falling off the rower in our conditioning sessions as we worked hard to maximize our times and effort. (Did I mention that these wee stumps for arms that I have are not built for rowing!) Dave Leith, our strength and conditioning coach, doesn’t let us away with very much – always setting goals that may just be out of reach, forcing us stubborn and determined ladies to prove him wrong or face a consequential physical challenge. His approach works, as there is little room for complacency and less room for complaining in our training environment. I love this environment – it builds resilience and team spirit – let’s face it, if there are 4 team mates willing you to power clean your best weight ever or smash out your 5th set of weighted pull ups, even though you feel like your arms are no longer attached to your body – you will keep going, because it’s no longer for you, it’s for your team. Do you work that hard alone? Unlikely!
I managed to catch up with our Nutritionist, Lyndsaye, and she reassured me that the dietary plan that I had established with Paige at STRIDE related to training, recovery, and performance was on point – so no issues there. I met with Paige in July as I wanted to make sure I was making the right food choices as an athlete – recognizing that I needed to be in the best physical state I could be, which includes limited vulnerability to tiredness and illness.
We were heading to the British Olympic Association – Athlete Summit in Edinburgh. All athletes in contention of going to Pyeongchang in February were invited to attend. It’s pretty cool to meet athletes from other sports – in attendance were athletes from Snowboard, Short and Long track skating, Skiing, Biathlon, Bobsleigh, and more. The weekend began with media interviews with various agencies, sponsors, written, televised, and social media.
The purpose of the summit was about building the concept of Team GB and presenting the logistics for the Olympics such as security, accreditations, the athlete village, as well as training and competition venues. We did get a sneak preview of the athlete wear from Adidas and we were measured for our opening and closing ceremony gear. We had a couple of team building activities such as a Korean cooking lesson and traditional Highland Games which proved that tossing the Caber is actually quite hard!
It was nice to see some familiar faces in athletes from previous games and also those still working for the British Olympic Association such as Mike Hay – our chef de mission who was our National Coach of curling, back in the day. A good weekend was had by all and it just made things a little more real. An interesting fact: only 635 people have represented Great Britain at the Winter Olympics. I imagine this is a minute fraction of those who have been a part of Canada’s winter team over the years.
Checking in with Darby Doo…
A FaceTime back up North tells me that Darby is teaching my family the rules of baseball, and learning the rules of rugby and football (soccer) – He can dive just like the players and roll around the ground pretending he his hurt just like them, too. ☺ He tells me “Mummy I miss you, but I’m having fun in Scotland”. He is also learning to ride his first bike that Nai Nai and Bumpa got him for his birthday – he is a safety-first little guy with his Paw Patrol helmet!
Darby made a trip to the Black Isle show – where he saw the highland cows and heard the bagpipes. While stopping for tea in Inverness, he met a fellow Canadian that he recognized because he was wearing a ‘Blue Jay’s’ ball cap.
I am glad to be staying with Eve mid week – finishing late in the evening and starting early morning – I appreciate catching up with sleep. Our evenings are spent cooking and preparing meals, planning, or doing homework before bed.
Eve isn’t much of a ‘movie’ girl – unlike me who likes to quote every movie I have seen – especially those from the late 80’s – “Nobody puts baby in the corner!” With that said, she loves everything sport, so I persuaded her to watch Icarus with me – A documentary that exposes how Russia corrupted the 2012 London Olympics and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, with evidence to support a much bigger national doping program in sport.
With training over, I manage to squeeze in two days to visit with my family and a special “steam” train ride on Thomas the Tank Engine. A whirlwind of a trip, but I feel like a lot was accomplished – for me, for the team, and for Darby. A chance to build relationships and enough time to adopt a wee Scottish ‘twang’.
Always hard to leave Scotland – it doesn’t get easier but how can we not be excited to head home to our family in Swift? Off we go with some Whisky for Daddy and a couple of Scottish, tartan, tweed gifts for Darby’s big brother and sister.
Thankful for such a supportive family in Scotland and back home. Memories to treasure for us all.
Next edition – Game Time.