SCOTLAND WHEELCHAIR CURLERS SET FOR SEASON DEBUT WITH NEW SKIP AT HELM
Until 2012 Hugh Nibloe’s only competitive outlet was playing dominoes with family and friends, but the Paralympic wheelchair curler from Stranraer is now preparing to lead his country into action on the international stage at the Euro Super League in Stavanger, Norway this weekend (27-29 September).
Nibloe takes on the role as a member of Scotland’s world championship silver medal winning team, having claimed that prize on home ice earlier this year, but taking over as skip from Aileen Neilson is something he sees as both a massive honour and responsibility.
“It will be my first competitive trip without Aileen, I learned so much about the game from her and I want to carry that on and do as well as I possibly can. I am excited about this opportunity and also about passing on my experience to other newer members of the team, as she did with me,” he said.
Nibloe had been an enthusiastic rugby player with Wigtownshire RFC and had a busy career in the merchant navy, before becoming a manager in a bookmaker’s, when he was diagnosed with MS in 2006 and thought his days of high level competition were over at that point. However his introduction to wheelchair curling in 2012 proved to be life transforming.
“I had no idea it was going to be life changing moment for me, getting involved in the sport and then joining the British Curling programme. It opened so many doors for me and suddenly I was training and competing with a group of people and travelling the world, when previously I had been terrified of leaving the house.
“Being supported by the programme and gaining self belief and feeling valued as a person has seen me achieve much more than I thought I was capable of,” he acknowledged.
The 37 year old has also just started a BA degree in Sports Business Management at the University of Stirling this month, an academic establishment which has recently been awarded Sports University of the Year 2020 by The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide.
“It has been a big year so far, big transitions for me in my sport and now academic pursuits and I am comfortable stepping up in both areas of my life. I now have a five year plan, when previously I didn’t even have a five day plan, he added.
“Getting back into competition this weekend will be great, we are looking to continually improve on the successful style of game we developed last season and with new faces in the team mix this year, our coach Sheila (Swan) will keep us well drilled.”
Fellow world silver medallist David Melrose is in the Scotland team line-up this weekend, along with Gary Smith and Charlotte McKenna who have progressed from Performance Foundation ranks after joining the programme last year and Head Wheelchair Coach Sheila Swan is keen to test this new combination.
“We started our training for this season back in August so we have had a decent spell of preparation and we are extremely fortunate to have access to the National Curling Academy during the summer. It will now be good to see where we are at the start of this season,” she said.
“The level of competition at the last world’s shows that the game is getting better year on year and we need to continue to qualify for the knock-out stages at the worlds heading towards Beijing 2022 and winning medals definitely puts a bigger target on our backs.”
Scotland’s success was recently acknowledged by Scottish Disability Sport, winning the ‘Athlete/s of the year award 2019’ for their sterling team performance at the world champs, as well as Swan winning ‘Performance Coach of the Year.’
Swan added, “It is a nice acknowledgement for wheelchair curling as a whole and getting nominated and then winning is great recognition of what they achieved this year.
“Now it is about continuing to get better every week to improve throughout the cycle and our season opener is just the start.”
Scotland, Norway, Russia and Sweden will compete in a double round robin comprising two games per day which concludes on Sunday (29 September).
Please click here for results from the Europa Super League, Stavanger.
Hugh Nibloe – Skip
Images: Perthshire Picture Agency - Graeme Hart.