It’s been a great year for 24 of the most talented athletes from Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles who received funding from the Athlete Travel Award Scheme (ATAS), giving them greater access to competitive and developmental opportunities on the mainland.
ATAS is funded by sportscotland and the islands’ local councils and aims to ensure talented athletes from the Northern and Western Isles have access to the same opportunities as athletes living on the mainland. Successful athletes can benefit from up to £1,500 from the programme to help with travel and accommodation costs when attending training and competitions.
To get a better picture of the positive impact of the scheme, we spoke to three island athletes about their training and their development since receiving ATAS funding.
Rachael is a goalkeeper from Harris who recently signed for Celtic and already has four caps for Scotland Under-16s and Under-17s. She made her international debut aged 14 against Poland and has an exciting career ahead of her.
So why is it so important for Rachael to be able to train on the mainland?
Rachael’s coach Pauline explains: “The level of competition on the island isn’t at the right level for Rachael and there aren’t the same training opportunities.
"As a goalkeeper, Rachael needs tailored training that she would be unlikely to receive on the island. Rachael is one of the best goalkeepers in her age group and works hard to ensure she comes back better every time.”
Pauline believes that without the chance to travel to the mainland to take part in specialised goalkeeper and team training, it would be unrealistic for Rachael to compete at such a high level. She says that since working with Rachael she has seen huge development in her, describing her as "a breath of fresh air".
Rachael told us that as she gets closer to the season, she will be travelling from Harris to Glasgow as often as she can for training. She admits that without ATAS funding this would be a major challenge as the cost of travel is expensive. Thanks to ATAS, Rachael can take more frequent trips so she can play and train more.
She says: ”It has helped me really progress my game and compete at a higher level."
Lauren, a swimmer from Shetland, is a national age-group athlete and Island Games medal winner. She underlines that before she had funding, her biggest challenge was the cost of getting off the island to compete.
Lauren says: “Due to not living on the mainland, it’s more difficult to travel to swimming meets because we need to take a plane or boat and then book accommodation.
"This means that a two-day competition often takes four days, which increases the cost of the trip significantly.”
The pool Lauren trains in at home is only 25m but she competes in a 50m pool. The ATAS funding has enabled her to get more experience training in 50m pools, which has been beneficial to her progress as she is able to train and compete at the same level as age-group peers from the mainland.
Ross, a weightlifter from Orkney, is the current national junior champion and a member of the Scotland national squad.
After setting himself tougher fitness goals in the gym, Ross met Orkney weightlifting coach Matthew Byres, who encouraged him to give weightlifting a go. Along with Matthew, Ross gives credit to all the coaches he’s trained with, insisting he “couldn’t have done it without any of them”.
Ross now lives in Edinburgh where he’s taken up an apprenticeship, which makes getting to training and competitions much easier than in his days of travelling from Orkney to the mainland.
He recalls: “My biggest challenge was definitely the distance and the impact of travelling. I often felt disadvantaged because it would make me really tired, which meant I wouldn’t be on my best form.”
Ross is grateful for the opportunity provided by ATAS and doesn’t think he’d have made it this far without the funding. He’s focused on retaining his title, developing his skills and furthering his ambition to compete in a future Commonwealth Games.
International Island Games
Opportunities like the International Island Games, which has been running since 1985, can make a real difference to Scotland's island-based athletes.
The 20th edition of the Island Games will be held in Orkney in 2023, showcasing a number of talented island athletes and demonstrating the value of the ATAS support in enabling them to progress.