Article by Arthur J A Bell (Club Chairman), published in Disabled Motorist Magazine (2008)
Each Monday between October and April I fold down my ‘chariot of fire’, and pack it into my trusty Saab 95 Estate. I drive through the hills of Southern Scotland heading for the ice.
“Ice?” you query.
Yes, some thirty miles north, near Glasgow, lies Hamilton with its ice-rink.
“With your one (not good) leg, don’t tell me you’re going skating?”
No, I’m actually off to my wheelchair-curling club.
“But you’ve got to heave 44lb granite stones down a sheet of ice for about 75 feet. How the Hell can you do that from a wheelchair without tipping yourself out?”
I know it sounds as unlikely as ‘Celebrity Camel Dancing’, but it works. I’ll explain how later, as it’s a sport most chair-bound folk can enjoy.
Micras and Mercs
Three seasons ago, when they set up South Lanarkshire Wheelchair Curling Club, there were four members. Now we’ve twenty-seven, so that means rather more cars. And more parking problems, but the local Asda who own the car park have helped.
All kinds and marques of vehicles from Volkswagen Passats to Ford Fiestas sit outside the rink. Carer, taxi, or a family member brings some curlers, who are unable to drive themselves. The Pococks, both in chairs, emerge down the ramp of their fantastic maroon Mercedes Sprinter Travelliner.
Gerald traded in his own and wife Wilma’s Motability cars to buy this one vehicle. Automatic, it’s converted for both driver and passenger in wheelchairs. Externally, it looks like ‘The A Team’ van with a Dr Who ‘Tardis’ interior.
So it’s in to the ice, with loud yells of “SWEEP” emitted from local farmer’s wives ringing around. You may know the sport involves one player (the skip) directs play at the far end. The curler with the stone slides several yards down the ice directing the lump of granite towards the skip at a far-away marked roundel. Two other players with brushes are directed by their skip to sweep the ice. This aids the speed and direction of the stone.
BUT WE CAN’T SWEEP, OR SLIDE DOWN THE ICE.
Steve Davies Assists
The secret of wheelchair curlers is a device from snooker and billiards. We use a cue. Unlike snooker’s wood, a curler’s cue is of coated extending lightweight metal. A plastic fitment on the end slides over the stone’s handle. So, with brakes fastened, a teammate holding us steady, we line up then forcefully push the stone towards the skip. He or she never needs to get hoarse with shouting as no sweeping is used. A slight turn of the wrist before releasing the stone causes it to curl left or right as our skip instructs. With experience this ‘handle’ becomes easier, and it’s critical if one is to place a stone where the skip indicates.
The club’s earliest lady member was Angela from Glasgow. This cheerful lawyer’s wife has had MS for some years, but it didn’t prevent her being in the team that won the 2006 Scottish Championship. With an ‘Autochair’ atop her Mazda she sets out with the full intention of reaching the ice rink before 12.30 pm. Sometimes Angela arrives on time, then we can get on with a game.
Three club founders still play. Craig, is a young man who really enjoys the challenges of the game, and he seems to get better each year. Club President Charlie drives down the M74 motorway from Lesmahagow. This grandfather has a knack of knocking out your best stone to beat you just when you thought you are winning. Then there’s Jim. He’s middle aged now, but a spinal injury in his mid-twenties put him into a chair for life. Ever cheerful he can be seen hurriedly wheeling for the exit after a game. (He’s not leaving, but having a fag with Frank, who’s survived a terrible stroke.) Jim won Bronze at the last World Wheelchair Curling Championship in Sweden. Indeed he’s travelled to Germany, Canada and the US to play wheelchair curling.
Now Jim is in Australia, with fellow member Bill. Both are bowling for Britain. Bill is particularly fine curler, and displays the typical bravery of so many wheelchair heroes. Two years ago he was on the top story of the Glasgow plastics factory where he worked. Suddenly, with no prior warning, he was on the ground floor. The factory had exploded. Nine of his co-workers were killed, and Bill lost a leg among other severe injuries. Now he’s an international sportsman. His wife Marion drives his navy blue Meganne, a wheelchair hoist in its funny posterior.
Eddie like myself is a left leg amputee, and a serious cricket follower from Airdrie. Brian, bearded like Trotsky, is an MS victim and a retired policeman with a criminal sense of humour. These two bring a smile to everyone’s faces. Brian and I were compared to two of the world’s most famous laughter-makers… the two grumpy old men in “The Muppet Show”.
Cheek! Admittedly that was from an opponent as, with Gerald and Michael, we were finishing second in the 2007 Scottish Championships.
Alas some members with particularly difficult disabilities can’t play the fiercest games, but this doesn’t stop them taking part. Our experienced coach Willie Baird, helped by Stranraer Gold Cup winning curler Ian Archer, naturally takes a lot of time with them.
For last words I turned to recent member Gill, and club Secretary David. Gill, a young lecturer before TM put her in a chair in 2003, says: “I enjoy both the game’s physical challenge and the social pleasure of the club. It tests my skills and helps develop teamwork.”
David, a retired social worker and double leg amputee, spent his working life helping others with disabilities. He regards “the camaraderie as most important. The game is fully inclusive, with club members from 19 to 77 years. Everyone gets great stimuli of body and brain.”
Did I mention wheelchair curlers have to be more skilful than the able-bodied? Oh yes, it is great fun, and much more graceful than camel dancing.
To find out more about our club (come and try curling for yourself!), use the simple contact form on this site and we’ll be glad to welcome you along.
To make contact with other Scottish clubs, The Royal Caledonian Curling Club can be reached by phone on 0131 333 3003.
The author, Arthur J A Bell, is a retired businessman who won many British and international marketing awards. He lost his left leg due to medical incompetence in 1999, and has written a book “My Chariot of Fire” about finding himself unexpectedly in a wheelchair.
Sadly, only months after this article first appeared the Club’s founding Chairman Charlie Russell died. He is still much missed by his fellow members.