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British Curling’s leading players are revelling in being back at work with full confidence that no stone has been left unturned by the national governing body in its efforts to ensure their safety.

After several weeks of on ice training at the purpose built National Curling Academy (NCA) in Stirling, Team Muirhead’s second Jen Dodds said she feels ‘100 % incredibly fortunate to be in the position she is in’, despite missing out on two World Championship appearances earlier this year, as the Women’s and Mixed Doubles were cancelled due to Covid-19. 

“First of all I have to say it felt so safe returning to training,’ said Dodds.

“After five months of an extended break I was itching to get back. We were sent the protocols about what was required which was a really extensive document. Then plus we had a call from the sportscotland doctor and after a long chat it really felt as though British Curling and all the partners had really thought about every single aspect of how we would feel about our return. I felt really encouraged by that.

“On the first day we went through the guidelines again and what was required of us. We enter and leave the NCA one at a time plus we have a temperature check before we get on ice. It is strict and thorough at all times and that has made me feel really confident about what has been implemented. It has also placed an ownership on all of us.

“As elite athletes it has been frustrating not getting to do what we train for, so we are fortunate to be back and any sacrifices I have to make won’t be too much for me. It has made me think much more about what I am doing when I am off-ice as we all have a responsibility, we have a job to do and we don’t want to do anything that might put that at risk.” 

Her sentiments were echoed by five times Scottish Mixed Doubles Champion Gina Aitken, who is enjoying the chance to work with new team mates Rebecca Morrison, Mili Smith and Sophie Sinclair for the season ahead.

“We have not had a chance to train as a full team yet, but that is something to look forward to,” said Aitken.

“It is two athletes per sheet with social distancing in place, so it is a strict process but we are really appreciative of the amount of time and effort that has gone into such a well prepared return. 

“Going into the NCA is very different just now. Everything was well documented and well organised beforehand, which helped to make it a smooth transition.

“The main building at The Peak is still not yet operational, so we enter and exit via a side door and with such an extensive return to training document it showed us just how much work had gone into getting us back on ice again. There has been a significant investment of time and effort from British Curling and the partners that should not be forgotten.

“It is a controlled environment with only eight athletes in at any one time and we now have to do the best we can with this opportunity we have been given.”

Ross Paterson, who like Dodds and Aitken juggles his on ice commitments with a day job, is glad to be able to resume all aspects of his working life.

“It is great to be back on the ice again,” said Paterson, who worked throughout lockdown for East Dunbartonshire Council doing additional voluntary work for his employers.

“I think I can speak on behalf of everyone in saying we are all delighted to be back doing what we love and after an extended break we all have that extra additional drive,” said Paterson. 

“As elite athletes we have had the advantage of access to the first ice that has been made made available and it is not something we will take for granted. We all have a responsibility to keep things on track on ice and also outwith our training times.

“It feels like we are at a cross-over stage, hopefully getting ready for competition again. For now, everyone is very happy with the safe environment British Curling has been able to create and feeling extremely positive about being back at training.

“It all looks a bit different with markings on the floor in the facility, sanitised warm up mats and sanitising handles before and after using stones and we all keep a daily awareness diary to flag up any change in our health, which means we keep ourselves and others safe.

“It is fair to say that British Curling has done a great job and we are very lucky to have access to additional medical back-up from sportscotland. No one is being blasé about the processes and everyone is trusting fellow team mates, coaches and fellow athletes to be doing the right thing and it has created an incredibly positive atmosphere in what feels like a very safe environment. 

“We all have an individual responsibility and no one wants a set-back, so we will take it one step at a time and make the most of this opportunity before we get to compete again. We know we are lucky. The NCA is a big venue so it is easy with limited numbers to train as safely as possible. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the club curlers can also start enjoying the game again too.”

British Curling’s Executive Performance Director Nigel Holl expressed deep satisfaction at the enthusiasm the players have shown in embracing the opportunity and said that was the best possible reward for the intense effort his team of coaches and administrators has made to provide it for them in conjunction with their partners at sportscotland and Active Stirling.

“It is heartening to see how motivated our athletes are and how they have adapted throughout the lockdown period as we transition out of that to a new way of working,” he said.

“It is clear that they fully acknowledge the privileged situation they are in, being able to return to training. With the elite core we are fortunate in that we can restrict numbers on ice, so can have different social distancing guidelines and protocols in place.

“For social curlers, like myself, there are additional challenges in the four plus four team match scenario. That will hopefully resume soon albeit, as is the case in an array of other sports, with slightly different government guidance from the elite game to ensure the public can resume sport in numbers as safely as possible.”

Images: PPA Graeme Hart. 

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