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British Curling’s wheelchair squad ,who were the last programme athletes to take part in a World Championships, have returned to on ice training today at the National Curling Academy (NCA) in Stirling.

Gary Smith who made his debut at those World Champs in Wetzikon, Switzerland earlier this year reckoned “it was worth the wait,” as he joked that he would have to work hard in the coming weeks not to arrive at the venue too early for his training sessions. 

“I will have to curb my excitement about being back on ice and seeing everyone face to face again, otherwise I will be waiting in the car park for hours before we are allowed in to the venue,” laughed the Edinburgh-based 51 year old.

Smith and all of his programme squad mates have been training in isolation at home and he is relishing the chance to get used to squad training again, although initially this will only take place in pairs.

“There will be lots to get used to with the health diaries, temperature checks and socially distanced training and coaching. However we know that the other programme athletes have got used to the new routine really quickly and they have found it very reassuring and thorough,” he said.

“For our squad we will have a new feature in our training and will be getting used to the new buddy pole instead of holding each other’s chairs during stone delivery, but again it will all become part of our regular routine and we will get used to this. It is all part of a new socially distanced culture that we are all having to get used to. “

Fellow 2020 World Champs debutant Charlotte McKenna also expressed her excitement at getting back to on ice training.

“I returned to work a few weeks ago and quickly adjusted to the new protocols there, so I am sure this will be no different in time,” said McKenna, who is based in Bridge of Allan and works at the local Macrobert Arts Centre.

“I was really desperate to get back on ice and for life to start feeling a bit more normal again. 

“It was a fantastic experience going to my first World Champs which turned out to be the only one that took place. The whole world was changing after we got back so we never really got the chance to properly share the stories and the experience with others in the way we normally would have.

“However we were lucky we had that chance and we also feel very fortunate to be getting back on ice again. We usually clean our wheels after entering the NCA and we have to do additional protocols and clean the rims of the wheels as well, so everyone is being extra careful. It has all been very detailed and we know that the staff and support staff at sportscotland and Active Stirling have gone to great lengths behind the scenes to make this as safe as possible for our return and for that we are all really grateful.

"I have been fortunate in that I have not been shielding, but for those that have all the extra lengths everyone has gone to will mean a lot to them and will help build confidence as we adjust to the new normal post lockdown.”

British Curling’s Head Paralympic Coach Sheila Swan commended the squad for their patience whilst additional protocols were being put in place before their return. 

“It has been great to get the squad back on ice today and they have adjusted really well to all the changes since we returned from the World Champs,” said Swan.

“It is testament to their attitude and commitment that they have kept themselves fit throughout lockdown so they were as ready as they could be for this return.

“We consulted the athletes throughout the whole process so they were fully aware of the many changes and new procedures put in place to help alleviate any initial concerns and as a result we have created a great environment for our athletes to train in.

“Our goal remains the same and we will be targeting the World Championships next year, but for the coming weeks we will see how everyone adjusts to using the new buddy pole and additional equipment to test out to see what works best for our athletes, so they can safely and easily adhere to social distancing during training. “ 

Two notable omissions from the squad are Sochi Paralympic bronze medallist and 2019 World silver medallist Robert McPherson and fellow world medallist Gary Logan, who have both decided to withdraw from the programme.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank both Bob and Gary for their huge contribution to the squad, both of whom have enjoyed successful careers and hope that they return to the programme at some point in the future,” said Swan.

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