8 March 2018

Neilson: "Hopefully I can inspire other females out there who look at something that hasn’t been done before"


Aileen Neilson is a trailblazer in Women’s sport becoming the first female to skip a wheelchair curling team at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games.

Now eight years on she is looking forward to doing it all over again in PyeongChang but also recognises her role covers more than just what she and her teammates can achieve on the ice.

To mark International Women’s Day it is fitting we celebrate the sporting successes of Aileen Neilson

“Hopefully I can inspire other females out there who look at something that hasn’t been done before, there always has to be a first so always think that maybe you could be that first,” she said.

“I just want to inspire people to get out there and try sport, they might not be at international level but it’s about being active and enjoying sport, meeting people and getting that social element.”

Sochi 2014 bronze

The Primary School Teacher

Neilson will once again skip the ParalympicsGB team when the Games get underway in PyeongChang, four years since leading them to a bronze medal at Sochi 2014.

But wind the clock back 13 years and this was all a pipe dream for Aileen as nerve damage to her legs following an operation meant competing in the sport now seemed unlikely.

That was until 2005 when, in her job as a primary school teacher, the 46-year-old made a return to the ice and she has not looked back since.

“I took my class to try the sport and it was the coach that said to me that they were starting a wheelchair curling club,” she said.

“I went along the next week with a wheelchair, got back on the ice and caught the bug all over again.

“I never thought I’d be able to take part in the sport so it was a real lightbulb moment for me. When I watched the team from Scotland win the World Championships in 2005, that was when I thought I would really like to be on the ice winning the medals rather than watching.

“When the coach mentioned it, all that was going through my head was the chance to be able to go along on a Sunday and get back on the ice to play with my family.

“Never did I dream that I would be going to a Paralympic Games or skipping a Great Britain team, it was very much about me being able to be back involved in sport again.”

“Never did I dream that I would be going to a Paralympic Games or skipping a Great Britain team!

The rollercoaster ride hasn’t stopped for Neilson either since making her Paralympic debut eight years ago.

In that time she skipped the team to a Paralympic bronze medal, at Sochi, but also experienced the pain of relegation to curling’s second tier – initially putting their place in PyeongChang in doubt.

But Neilson, alongside Hugh Nibloe, Gregor Ewan, Angie Malone and Bob McPherson recovered in style – a World Championship bronze medal in 2017 securing qualification for the Paralympic Games.

“All the competitions you go to and all the training you do allows you to learn so much, one of the chaps we work with always says it’s not about winners and losers, but winners and learners, so every game we play, particularly the ones we lose, we can learn so much from that,” she said.

Rival teams in PyeongChang had better take note because Aileen feels she and her teammates are now better prepared than ever.

Aileen said: “I think having been at two Paralympics already, I’ve learnt a lot from them and the World Championships so hopefully we can take what we’ve learnt and use that in South Korea.”

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