Training through the Pandemic - with Paralympic hopeful, Gary Smith

For Gary Smith, retiring from a career in wheelchair Basketball due to a long-term shoulder injury was not an easy decision. He had played wheelchair basketball for as long as he could remember and made many lifelong friends through the sport. However, the decision to retire was made far easier when he found passion (and a real talent) for Wheelchair Curling. 

Although Wheelchair Curling has been around since the 1990’s, the sport made its Paralympic debut fairly recently at the Turin 2006 Winter Paralympic gamesThe sport is similar to the traditional game of Curling, with the main difference being that the wheelchair game does not involve sweeping. Once the athletes push the stone down the ice, they no longer have control, so that first push of the stone must be perfect! 

Gary was kind enough to take some time out of his busy training schedule to tell us about the technology involved in elite level Curling and how he and his squad have coped with training during lockdown. Here’s what he told us: 

What Equipment is used in Wheelchair Curling? 

There are a few important pieces of equipment that help us to perform at our best. The first is a delivery cue that we use to push the stone down the iceHow you use this cue can have a massive impact on the speed and direction of the stone. The second piece of equipment is a handle on our wheelchairs to help keep us balanced. If our shoulders are not exactly square when we release the stone, there is little chance of us hitting our target consistently. Even being a millimetre out can make an enormous difference. 

Do you use any technology in Wheelchair Curling? 

We are extremely lucky to have access to video analysis at the National Curling Academy. This allows us to identify any areas that we need to work on, rather than just changing our technique after a poor performance and hoping for the best. As I mentioned above, the slightest difference in how we release the stone can have a massive impact, so the ability to identify where we are going wrong can be huge. Access to this technology has made a massive difference to me. 

What impact has COVID had on your training? 

Of course, not being able to get on the ice has been very tough this year, but the coaching staff at British Curling have been fantastic and really helped us adapt to the new normal. We have carried out off-ice training from home during lockdowns, and like the rest of the world we have adapted to Teams and Zoom calls. This was the first time I had ever taken part in video call, but I quickly got the hang of it.  

Did you notice any positives to training at home? 

Spending so much time off ice meant that we could focus on things that we wouldn’t normally get the chance to dedicate much time to. For me, I have really enjoyed the sports psychology and tactical observation work that we’ve worked on. As someone who has joined the sport as an adult, it was good to get back to basics for a while, without the pressures attached to training for competitions etc. I guess it’s all about seeing the positives in what we can do 

What did you miss most about being on ice? 

I would have to say the competition aspect of the sport is the thing I missed most. At the end of the day, the reason we train and dedicate so much of our lives to sport is to be successful and win medals, so I certainly miss that winning feeling. Of course, I miss the banter that we get as a team on the ice too. Although the online sessions are still enjoyable, it’s not the same as being with each other on a day-to-day basis 

What one piece of Technology could you not live without? 

That’s an easy answer…….my mobile phone. My phone has my whole life in it. Everything from my daily schedule to my session logs. It’s where I report on how my training is progressing and where I search for my competition planner. Every now and again I even use it to make a phone call too! 

What is the one technological advancement you would like to see? 

That would have to be technology to make places more accessible for wheelchair users. Something that can make stairs manageable, but also be within the price range of the everyday person. It’s great to see so much innovation going on in the world of accessibility, but it’s important that what Is designed is available to benefit everyone. Some of the mobility equipment nowadays can cost more than my car. 

Lastly, what is the one home adaptation that you could not live without? 

My wet floor shower room. I know the struggles that disabled people can have if they don’t have access to an accessible bathroom. For me, having the space I need to have a quick shower before heading out to training helps me to feel fresh and ready for the days training ahead! 

 

I first met Gary over 15 years ago and have always admired him as one of the most experienced wheelchair Basketball players in the countryAs well as being an incredible player, he is also an incredible coach, even spending some time in a Team Manager role for the Scottish Rocks (Scotland’s leading running Basketball team at the time) before making his switch to Wheelchair Curling.  

For Gary to dust himself down after a career ending injury, then throw himself into a new sport is commendableHowever, the fact that he has now fought his way into the Great Britain set up and has real aspirations of competing in a winter Paralympic games one day, is amazingI’m sure you will all join me in wishing Gary the best of luck for the future and we hope to see his name on the GB Wheelchair Curling team sheet soon 

If you are interested in trying out Wheelchair Curling in Scotland, then please click this link to be taken to the Scottish Wheelchair Curling Association to find out more.  

 

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Comment by Ryan MacDonald on April 1, 2021 at 7:54

Thanks Anthony. I know that the Scottish Wheelchair Curling Association run taster sessions, so keep your eyes peeled. I'll let you know if I hear of anything too. 

Comment by Geordie Travels on March 30, 2021 at 12:54

Brilliant read mate - always fancied giving wheelchair curling a shot. 

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