Sports Minister, Maree Todd, has announced the 14 Highland athletes who have been awarded grants from sportscotland’s Athlete Travel Award Scheme.
The Minister met one of the successful athletes, endurance runner Stephen Mackay, at a visit to Dingwall Academy earlier this week. “Its great to meet one of the talented athletes who has benefitted from the Athlete Travel Award Scheme. This scheme supports those athletes from rural, remote and island communities to overcome some of the challenges they face, such as access to facilities and travel costs.
“I am delighted that for the first time Highland athletes will benefit from the scheme to promote equal opportunities to participate, progress and achieve in their chosen sport competing on the national and international stage.
“I look forward to seeing more from these athletes in future as they continue to excel in their chosen sport.”
The Athlete Travel Award Scheme is a partnership between sportscotland and participating local authorities - Orkney Islands, Western Isles, Shetland Islands and Highland. It is aimed at helping ‘elite pathway’ athletes – athletes with the potential to compete at a high level - to gain better access to competition and training opportunities without having to relocate from their communities.
Athletes can apply for sums up to £1,500 through an application process, with athletes required to evidence how the grant will improve their performance, provide them access to quality training and competition opportunities to support their development through their sporting pathway.
The Highland-based athletes who have been successful in this round of applications are:
- Stephen Mackay, Athletics, based in Inverness
- Summer Elliot, Golf, based in Inverness
- Sophie Barrie, Badminton, home base Inverness
- Shannon Pasotti, Rugby, based in Caithness
- Ollie Smith, Rugby, based in Inverness
- Megan Keith, Athletics and Orienteering, based in Inverness
- Mark Boyd, Surfing, based in Thurso
- Lucas Cairns, Athletics, based in Fortrose
- Jack Mann, Golf, based in Avoch / Ross and Cromarty
- Douglas Goodwill, Downhill Mountain Biking, based in Beauly
- Danial Parfitt, Downhill Mountain Biking, based in Fort William
- Craig McLachlan, Surfing, based in Thurso
- Alice Kemsley, Orienteering, based in Nethybridge
- Alexander Mackay, Athletics, based in Dingwall
Stephen Mackay, who has represented Scotland at 3000m and is the Inverness Harrier 1500m record holder, is in no doubt that this additional support will make a real difference to Highland athletes like himself. "Being in the North can be a bit of a disadvantage as straightaway you’ve got that additional cost just to get down the road which you maybe don’t have if you are based in the central belt. So, this funding makes it easier to get to competitions and get to the level of training camp that we need to as full-time athletes.
“As an endurance runner you need to spend a couple of months at altitude so next month, I should be going to Flagstaff in Arizona to train with Jake Wightman so that is a major cost – maybe £2,000 to £3,000 per camp – the funding I have been given covers a big percentage of that so it’s crucial for us up here.
“I’m hoping to make the Commonwealth Games standard for either the 800m or 1500m and to do that I’m going to have to race in bigger meets across Europe. There will be some opportunities in the UK as well but to be honest, living in Inverness it doesn’t matter if it’s the UK or Europe as you must travel anyway.
"It can be expensive, so sometimes it’s just as cheap to go to Europe and get a better-quality race and again, this funding is crucial to allow me to do that as it takes out some of the worries and the cost.”
Flexibility and free facilities
As part of the package of support, High Life Highland has given the athletes supported by the scheme, free access to all their facilities across the region.
Stephen, who also trains with Olympians Laura Muir and Gemma Reekie in Glasgow, loves the flexibility that High Life Highland pass give him: “I use the track but also the new gym facility in Inverness. They’ve got a strength and conditioning suite which is really good, to be honest it’s one of the best I’ve ever used. That’s where I train normally, but with High Life Highland you can now train anywhere in the Highlands for free, so if you’re away for the weekend you can nip into any sports centre. I’ve also got Inverness Royal Academy next to me, so I use that as well and just having that flexibility is so handy.”
Support through local partnerships
Stewart Harris, Chief Executive, sportscotland, explained why this additional support has been made available: “At sportscotland we recognise the specific challenges faced by athletes in Highland. That is why we are delighted to provide this investment through the Athlete Travel Award Scheme, in partnership with High Life Highland. By working together, we can deliver services locally through the sportscotland institute of sport and High Life Highland, while providing additional support to allow talented athletes to travel to competitions and progress in their chosen sport.”
“It’s fantastic to see these first athletes from Highland who are set to benefit from the scheme, and we look forward to seeing how their sporting careers progress.”
sportscotland has allocated each of the four local authorities in Highland & Islands £10,000, with the Councils or Leisure Trusts then required to top this up with £2,000 of their own funding, plus the equivalent of £3k of management and administrative time.
Mags Duncan, Head of Sports Development for High Life Highland said: “We are delighted to work in partnership with sportscotland to bring this additional funding to support talented athletes across Highland. The funding will support them to access specialist training and competitions which will be of benefit for their development.”
Up to 32 athletes from across the four Highland and Islands local authorities will benefit from support in 2021-22. Now in its third year of funding, the scheme has already supported 48 athletes across the Island authorities.
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