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Team Inspirational

By 20th November 2014

As someone who has dodged sporting fever for most of her adult life I have often wondered what it is that gets people so worked up? Why does the result of another person’s achievements reduce grown men to tears and sensible women to lose their composure? Well, over the past year I've been transformed into a bone-fide sports groupie as I’ve followed the amazing highs of Live Active Leisure’s Talented Athlete Scheme Members. 

This creeping transformation started after a meeting for a video interview with Eve Muirhead in her capacity as PH2O ambassador. At the tender age of twenty three she was preparing to lead her team in the Sochi Winter Olympics; such was her belief in this project for her home city that she took time out of training to sit in front of our camera and give her personal reasons for supporting the development. And this is the perfect lead-in to the story behind this incredible young woman’s Olympic medal, the love she has for home city and the people who’ve supported her.

Eve’s curling prowess is almost innate; in the blood as it were. In his heyday, her Dad won two silver medals at World Championship level and played the Olympics back in 1992 as a demo sport. The middle child between two brothers, Eve started on the ice with her Dad and the boys at the age of nine years old.

“We had always come down to Dewars to watch Dad play and as wee kids we were desperate to get on the ice and give it a go. I started at the Atholl Rink in Pitlochry and always remember loving it. My brothers were there, my mum would watch on and it was a big part of our family life.”   

You can probably guess the next few years of this tale; Eve’s talent was obvious from the outset and by the age of twelve she was in the Regional Academy honing her skills and learning her craft under the watchful eye of her Dad as coach.  By thirteen she was down to the last eight in the Scottish Junior Championships and from then on she played down rink, reaching the semis of the same competition the following year.

At fifteen Eve received her first Talented Athlete Pass from Live Active Leisure. Her practice on the ice, throwing stones and learning strategy had moved up a gear to include the training regime of a performance athlete.

“I remember it coming through the door. I was so excited.  I applied just after I was first selected to play at regional level. I had to get my coach to sign my form to prove I was on a performance path and every year since then I’ve done exactly the same.  I had played my first Olympic Games and I was asking my National Coach to sign off my LAL talented athlete pass for me.   

After it arrived I went down to Atholl Leisure Centre in Pitlochry and the buzz of just being beeped through was amazing. My pals were all so impressed – I really thought I’d made it.   Richard devised my first strength and conditioning programming for me and whenever I’m at home I always go there to train. I still text him to let him know I’m coming and I still carry my card; I would never just turn up and expect to get in.”  

“It was just an up and up rise from there.  I went through the Scottish Junior Championships and the European Junior Championships and by the time I was sixteen I had won the World Championships.   I won in 2007, 2008, 2009, missed it for the Olympics in 2010 and then went back to win again in 2011.  In between all of this I was doing other major tournaments, like the Europeans but I’m sure you don’t want the whole, boring list!”

It’s a subtle yet telling statement; she is perfectly aware that the list may be long but it is far from boring.  However, from first meeting her there is no show or pomp, no air of high achieving Olympian.  She is every inch a typical twenty four woman. Until, that is, you start her talking about the game or her training and her mood switches to something between steely focus and innate passion.

There is an unwavering determination and a trait she describes unapologetically as ‘Stubborn. I hate to lose.”

Is this the reason that as well as an Olympic Medal for curling she also plays off scratch at golf?

Eve Golfing“Well, I don’t anymore. (face screws up a wee bit!)  I lost a couple of points this year because I’ve not been able to get out as much. Although I did get invited to the Pro-Am at Wentworth this year which was amazing! I played quite seriously when I was younger.  I won County Championships and got down to the last sixteen in British girls when I played at British Championship level.  I’m just one of those people who doesn’t do a thing by half. I need to be the best, be the person who’s taking home the medal.  I was the same when I was piping”

Piping? Like Bag Pipes?

“Yeah.  When you live in Blair Atholl piping is a big deal! The Vale of Atholl Pipe Band is one of the best in the world and I competed with them for years when I was a teenager.  We played Scottish, British and World Championships.  I loved it, still do. In fact I’ve been doing some piping this week for something but I can’t tell anyone about it yet. It was great fun though.”

I feel flummoxed at the thought of co-ordinating her teenage diary and without ever having met her, Eve’s mum is escalated into my highest esteem.  How did they fit it all in?

“My parents were amazing. They took us everywhere and supported all of it. We’re all the same, my younger brother has won gold curling at the World Championships and he reckons he’ll have an Olympic medal to match mine! Or maybe beat it.  It was what I wanted to do – I was good at sports, good at piping and I just wanted to be the best.   I was offered a golf scholarship in America when I was sixteen and that was the point at which I had to make my choice.

I know the right thing to say is that it was difficult choice and I thought long and hard about it but the fact is there was no question for me. When it came down to it and I had to choose my path it was always going to be curling. There was no second thought.    I knew I had everything it takes to be a world champion and win an Olympic medal.  And I still golf socially.“

This is exactly the reason my life-long avoidance of sport has been quashed. That single-minded determination fascinates me and listening to a young woman talk about making these life-changing decisions at the age of sixteen is why I love the Talented Athlete scheme and everything it stands for. 

I imagine her as one of those girls who was never away from the PE block, always in jogging bottoms and with a pony tail swinging down the back of her airtex. Popular and heading for a world class stage.

“Not really. Doing PE was never cool, never really something that you were made to feel proud of amongst other people the same age.  And the sad truth is, that’s a big deal when you’re a teenager.  One of the things I want to change is how young people view sports; I hate that collective mentality that makes bunking off PE something that the popular kids do. I had the mick taken right out of me for my curling and a less determined kid could be put off by that.  Its why I’m so passionate about programmes that help teenagers find a path into sports at all levels.”

The idea that she was being teased and tormented for her focus and sacrifice is one that seems ludicrous now.  As an Olympic medallist she has become one of the country’s sweethearts, a role model and shining example of what hard work can achieve.  I’m almost certain the cool kids of her youth now spend their lunch breaks telling anyone who’ll listen that they went to school with her.

“Everyone wants to know about the sacrifices I made - and make – to play at this level. And yeah, when I was a teenager and everyone else was going out and I was getting up early to compete I can see how that must’ve looked like sacrifice. But it never felt like that for me. Not going out and winning a medal was always going to be better than going out and not winning a medal.  Besides, my real friends never minded and now they’re all delighted for me. They know what I’ve put in and they’re proud of me.”

“When you excel at something and you’re willing put in the gruelling hours needed to be the best then you want that reward at the end of it all. My coach this morning was prepping us all for the Europeans at the weekend and knowing that we’re just a few days away from competition and hopefully another win, is a buzz. It keeps you up there at your peak.”

She’s leaving for the Europeans two days after our catch up and will probably be throwing her first stones as you’re reading this article.  The last time I met with Eve was just before she left for Sochi and sitting in exactly the same place, Dewars café after a training session, I’m reminded of how calm she was considering the global limelight she was about to step into.

“You know, we all just treat it the same as every other competition. You need to keep the same routine, keep your blinkers on and stay focused.  And I know it’s probably not the right thing to say but for me, personally, my first World Championships were a bigger deal.  That’s not in any way undermining what we did in Sochi and believe me, I’m determined that medal will be a Gold in 2016, but the World Championships in curling are a huge, huge deal and that first big competition was easily my most nerve-wrecking. Nowadays, I’m more resilient to the hype surrounding it all; I see all my games as important and give every one played my best efforts. It’s all you can do.”

Eve and the rest of the women’s team at Socchi made a decision to switch off their social media, something she says, that was essential in keeping them focused and free of distractions.

1 TEAM MUIRHEAD

“When we switched on twitter after the games it was crazy. That’s the thing now – it’s so direct and so personal. There were athletes in the village receiving death threats and daily hammerings. Who needs that?   Dave, our coach, suggested it and we all agreed that it was the right thing to do.”

And it’s little wonder this is necessary; Eve has some 50,000 followers on twitter. As well as winning Olympic Medals she has won the hearts of the nation with her down to earth, girl next door attitude and willingness to get herself out there and enjoy every opportunity her current status is awarding her.  As a young, confident athlete winning Olympic medals and happy to get out and talk about it, she is the  embodiment of what curling needed to pull it into the 21st century. It is slowly but surely standing its ground alongside the skiing and skating of winter pursuits.

After Eve’s win back in February, Live Active Leisure’s ‘Try Curling’ Sessions sold out overnight, as did the additional three dates that they added to their calendar. Her return from Sochi saw school kids line up in Dewars to have their books signed and photographs taken with our very own, local Olympic Hero. The sense of pride and rush of positive energy that Eve’s win brought with it was felt by Perthshire as a whole.  The sporting success of a local, someone who is one of us, unifies a small city in a way that is difficult to quantify and impossible to replicate. 

Eve Muirhead at Dewar

Talking of which, she moved seamlessly from spotlight to spectator back in May when Saints brought home the cup for the first time in their history. Hot on the heels of her own win she was possibly their most high profile fan, scarf in the air cheering from the stands with her fellow Perthites.

“It was brilliant wasn’t it? I was so excited.  Watching your team win the cup when you’ve followed them all your life – the whole thing was amazing.“

She was, of course, very much a guest of honour on the big match day; the win at Sochi had started to open doors that Eve couldn’t have possibly predicted. Her easy going chat and obvious love of sport made her the perfect choice for Radio Scotland’s coverage of the Commonwealth Games and has given her a taste of what might come in the future. I heard her address Perthshire Businesswomen’s Network earlier this year and she is as natural standing up blethering and chatting as she is throwing stones down a rink.  This added attention may have its downside but it is one she is happy to accept as part and parcel of this whirlwind that is now her life.

“People spot you and they want to come over and chat and have their photo taken. I was at a boxing match with my brother just after the Olympics and we couldn’t move. It was all-consuming to begin with but, you know, it’s all part of it and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

She enjoyed a couple of weeks off after the games, trained all summer, made some guest appearances and within four months of the season ending it started all over again. Since September she has won the Grandslam in Canada, has had a tournament in Sweden, leaves for the Europeans in a couple of days, will play the Scottish Championships in February and the Worlds in Japan in March.  Is there any time off?

“Well, realistically I could choose to train less. I could spend more time off the ice and less time in the gym. But for me that’s not how I want to play it.  It’s like I said, it’s not a sacrifice to get up every day and do something that you love.  I train hard because that’s what I want to do and the other girls on the team feel exactly the same way. My life may be different to other people’s but it’s exactly the life I want it to be.”

She will spend Christmas at home in Blair Atholl, on the family farm with her Mum, dad and brothers.  This is where she can relax, unwind and be herself without fuss or question.

Eve With Medal“I love being on the farm. Going home to my family is still one of my favourite things to do. Its normality.  My brother runs the farm with my dad now, in fact he watched me play the winning game at Sochi from the sheep market in Stirling.  Last year, Christmas was so close to the games I couldn’t really relax. I was pumped up on the anticipation of it all.  I think that’s why I’m looking forward to this year so much. I can’t wait.”

It is with this thought that we finish up. At 24 years old Miss Eve Muirhead has brought home an Olympic Medal, turned the world’s media attention towards her beloved curling, watched her team win the cup, give daily opinion on our national radio station and helped put our small city on the global sporting map.  But like you, me and everyone else, it’s her Mum’s Christmas dinner that will be the cherry sitting firmly on top of her incredible 2014. 

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Super sports fans who do indeed want to read through the long and noteworthy list of her achievements can check out her page on Red Sky Management’s website.

Eve is an ambassador for the ambitious PH2O project currently being promoted by Live Active Leisure

FOLLOW EVE | TWITTER

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