When Sandra Black first tried curling, little did she know it would prove to be an ice-breaker that would help transform her life.
The 52-year-old, who is deaf, tried the sport for the first time through Scottish Curling’s British Sign Language (BSL) and D/deaf programme. She was introduced by partner Mike Girdwood, a wheelchair curler and coach who is proficient in BSL.
Sandra, from Kirkcaldy in Fife, said: “Mike was keen for me to understand why he liked the sport so much and wanted me to have a go and see exactly what he did.
“I hadn’t really taken part in any other sports beforehand but I’d been to a few games and competitions with Mike, so I decided to give it a try and see if it was for me.”
Developed by Scottish Curling, the programme is one example of how an inclusive and person-centred approach to sport can support disabled people, helping develop physical confidence and competence.
Sandra soon became one of 76 deaf curlers who took part in five sessions at the National Curling Academy in Stirling between October 2019 and March 2020.
She said: “I was nervous when I first stepped on to the ice, but was also looking forward to meeting other deaf people and understanding why Mike enjoyed the sport.
“The first session was just basic, getting to know the ice, the rules and how to use some of the equipment, like the kipper, brush and pole, but I really enjoyed it and couldn’t wait for the next session.”
Mike added: “I’d heard about Scottish Curling’s plans to start a deaf-friendly programme and thought Sandra should try it and mix with other deaf people. I think it also helped that she knew I’d be there to help out.”
To help them understand some of the sport’s more technical terms, the curlers were taught new BSL signs developed in partnership with Heriot-Watt University – and Sandra was soon taking full advantage.
She said: “After learning some of the new signs, I learned to aim the stones and make them curl and took part in a few challenges and mini-games against other deaf teams.
"I really enjoyed it, my confidence soared and I was keen to explain to others what I’d learned in such a short space of time.
“I just loved being part of a group and mixing with the other players and I found that I thrived on challenging other teams.”
As well as relishing the competitive side with her new skills, Sandra believes learning to curl has benefited her mental health too.
She said: “It’s certainly helped me de-stress, relax and free my mind from normal life pressures. It’s just great to have fun with like-minded people – I have a real laugh when I’m there.”
Mike said this new-found confidence and enjoyment of the sport had also been obvious to others on the ice.
He said: “The coaches say it’s a delight to see Sandra’s enthusiasm and excitement and they also say they’ve seen a clear difference as she comes out of her shell more and more.
“It’s fantastic because I’ve always tried to encourage Sandra to become more independent and confident in her abilities. Curling has shown her that she can do things and that there’s more to life than being at home.”
Looking ahead, Sandra said she remained determined to develop her new-found confidence – and urged others to give it a whirl too.
“I’d recommend it to everyone, whether they’re disabled, deaf or not. It’s such a fantastic way to get out of the house, unwind and spend time with friends.”
Find out more
Find opportunities to get involved in curling at the Scottish Curling website
Learn more about disability sport opportunities at the Scottish Disability Sport website
Sport For Life: summary of progress is sportscotland's annual review for 2019-20.