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One of British Curling’s newest prospects has explained how her discovery of wheelchair curling has transformed her life.

Norma Woods, who has been invited to join programme squad training sessions for a trial period describes how her resilience has helped her overcome illness and prejudice in her pursuit of a new sporting career.

“I was born in Airdrie, but I lived with my family in Denny, working as a minute taker with Falkirk Council’s Child Protection Unit and it was a job that I loved,” said Norma. 

“I was around 40 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer and had a lumpectomy. After wards I went back to work and carried on much as I had before.”

During the cold winter of 2010, she noticed how much effort was required each day when walking to work, but assumed it was due to poor weather conditions.

“Things worsened and in 2012 I could hardly weight bear and after investigations I was sent to hospital and a large tumour was discovered which required further surgery,” Norma explained.

“A pin was put into my leg and again, after a period of recovery, I returned to work. However after six months of struggling with pain and having to take morphine almost every day I took early retirement in December 2013.

“A year later I was told that I needed a life saving operation and in December 2014 my left leg was amputated. 

“It was an extremely traumatic time, I lost my mum, whom I was extremely close to, just before the surgery, my son got married and moved down south and my marriage of 35 years came to an end. 

“In the space of a year I lost my mum, my marriage, my home and my leg and at the age of 55 years old I felt that my life was over. “

In 2015 when she eventually left hospital she was given a disabled flat on a hill in Callendar Park in Falkirk.

“My friends were great but they had their own families and busy lives to lead, much like mine had been before,” she said.

“Previously I would have phoned my mum every day for a chat, but now I couldn’t have felt her loss more. It was a difficult time and I don’t think I realised just how isolated and depressed I was at that time. I had been given a wheelchair that was bigger than me and I was struggling to adjust to this new life that didn’t feel like mine anymore and I didn’t want to admit to anyone how down I was feeling.”

Rather than moping, Norma reached out, but found rebuilding her life difficult.

“I joined an art club thinking that would give me the outlet I needed but it didn’t give me the social interaction and connection with others that I needed,” she said.

“I knew that somehow I needed to make a new life for me. When I was young I had loved being involved in sport and had been very active, I had been a sprinter and also became a very keen walker, so I was always on the go.

“However finding myself in a wheelchair, I suddenly realised how being less active also meant the social side of my life had changed as well.”

In particular, it wasn’t just the new surroundings that she had to try to get used to, it was also how others now perceived her.

“People react to you differently when you are in a wheelchair,” she noted.

“I had to get used to people staring at me and when I was out on shopping trips with my daughter, if I asked a shop assistant a question, they would look and respond to my daughter and I didn’t like it one bit. It was as if they were treating me like ‘a nobody’ and I kept telling myself ‘I am somebody’.

“It all added to the feelings that I didn’t belong and people were not listening to my voice. I wondered if because they were seeing me from a different angle, from my wheelchair they thought I had lost my intelligence as well and it made me fight harder, made me more determined.”

The opportunity to prove herself was provided by her niece, Lisa Male, who had been working with children with disabilities and, after experiencing how much they got from Try Curling sessions, suggested that Norma take part in one.

“In the summer of 2016 I went to the Peak and I loved wheelchair curling straight away. I had a set- back in January 2017 when I broke my pelvis, but was back playing again by September 2017,” she said. 

While there were yet further setbacks to be overcome, she has fully embraced the world of new opportunities that has opened up, including moving home south of the border.

“I met my partner Stephen (McGarry) through curling and he played with (English-based) Northern Ice and they were all like family together and it was great to be part of a sporting and sociable group,” said Norma.

“Another tumour was discovered and while I was in hospital in Glasgow, Stephen was competing in Finland in the World B qualifiers for England. I got better much quicker this time and I came out of hospital on a Monday and I was in Stranraer on the ice by Thursday with my stitches still in, I was so keen to get back playing and I didn’t want to let the team down.

“They are such big characters in Northern Ice and it has opened up a whole new world for me. I moved in with Stephen in Bedlington in 2018 and it is a really accessible town, we are able to push round to everywhere.

“Stephen taught me how to look after myself, I didn’t even know that the wheels came off my wheelchair until he showed me. He taught me how to get up and down kerbs and it really began to open my eyes to what was possible.”

It also means that she thinks nothing of the challenge of spending long hours on the road to continue her involvement in competitive curling, along with Stephen who has also been invited to join the British Curling squad as part of the same trialling group with their fellow Northern Ice curler Stewart Pimblett.

“Through wheelchair curling, training and competing all over the country it has challenged me mentally and physically and opened up a whole new world to me,” said Norma. 

“I am part of a great community and I have made friends in Stirling, Stranraer, Hamilton and Lockerbie. I know most of the squad and it is great to get experience of how the programme works and to get that support and a schedule of training which we are doing at home just now.

“We are used to travelling for two hours to a curling rink to train, so getting the opportunity to train with the squad at the National Curling Academy when we are able to get back on ice is going to be exciting.”

Despite having to postpone their wedding which would have taken place last Saturday due to Covid-19, Norma’s philosophical approach means she focuses on what she can look forward to.

“It is a great life now and a much happier one and both Stephen and I are keen to see how far we can go with our curling. I hope this shows others that there are opportunities like these out there, you just need to give curling a try!”

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