Oh to curl up on a hot beach
Kelly Wood dreams of collapsing on a beach for a few weeks. She doesn't care which beach, as long as it's somewhere hot. But every year her holidays are consumed by curling.
The season runs from September to March. It begins with domestic competitions and then the European tour takes her and her team - or rink - to Norway and Switzerland. Come October, there are the European play-offs, and in early November, two weeks on the Canadian circuit. December brings the European championships, followed by more Scottish events, including the championship in February. The world championships are in March.
All this has to be juggled with Kelly's job as an active school co- ordinator working with Wallace High's six feeder primaries in Stirling. Come the end of the season, it begins to take its toll, she admits.
"You get to a point where you are fed up and tired," says the 27-year-old. "Usually, that's the time when you need a break. I feel too guilty to take one, though. People don't understand that, when you're away, you're not having a holiday. You are training six or seven days a week and don't see or do anything else."
Kelly jokes that she is in the wrong job, given the curling season clashes with the school term. But even out of season, when the ice rinks close, training continues. She has a fitness and conditioning programme she has to stick to, with three weight sessions a week and six cardiovascular sessions, each around an hour. "You have to squeeze them in first thing in the morning or after work. It's easier in the summer because the evenings are longer and you're less likely to have after-school clubs to run."
Fitness is vital in curling, to avoid injury and have the stamina to go the distance. In competition, teams play two games a day, each lasting up to three hours. It is mentally and physically tiring, says Kelly, who as skip is responsible for deciding strategy and playing the last two stones. "Recently, we upped our fitness and strength and it has made a massive difference."
Kelly won the Scottish senior ladies championships from 2005-07. She competed for Great Britain at the Winter Olympics in Turin in 2006, and has been selected for the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. Last year she won bronze in Japan at the World Women's Curling Championships and took home a silver medal from the European Curling Championships in Germany. "It was unbelievable," she says of her team's success.
"We had tried for so long, were always successful at home and then whenever we went to international competitions, Worlds or Europeans, we never seemed to quite get there. It was really special to finally be on the podium. You can start to doubt yourself a wee bit."
Kelly started curling aged eight in the opulent surroundings of the Letham Grange ice rink. "It was in a country club with crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling."
Curling is a family affair. Kelly's parents play, as do her older brother and sister, Lorraine, 34, and Gary, 33. Her younger sister, Lindsay, 24, plays in the team that Kelly skips. "It was traditionally a sport played by farmers, and my grandparents were farmers," explains Kelly, who is originally from Montrose.
Dancing lessons - Highland, ballet, tap, jazz - might have had something to do with her and Lindsay's success, she feels. "Good flexibility and co-ordination helps."
Lindsay, however, was the only member of Kelly's rink not to make it on to the Olympic team. The girls have been playing and winning national and international curling competitions together since 1999, when they won their first Scottish junior championship. "Only 3 or 4 per cent of the population will make an elite level in their sport or have the chance to represent their country or make the Olympics. Everybody prioritises Team GB. Your own team has to be pushed to one side," she says.
In Turin, Kelly enjoyed the novelty of competing not just for Scotland but the UK and being part of a team where curling was just one element. There is of course still the day job, which she is passionate about. "The importance of living an active and healthy life is a vital message to get over to kids, to be part of the team responsible for getting that message home is inspirational."
She enjoys the way her job changes depending on the school's location. It is also valuable, she feels, for pupils to see living proof that you can make it to the top of your chosen sport. "They see me and see I am a normal person. If they have a talent or play well, it makes them see that anything is possible."
In the build-up to the Games in 2010, however, something may have to give, she admits. Before the Winter Olympics in 2006, Kelly used up all her annual leave to train and compete, as well as the 15 additional days that Active Stirling gives to athletes who represent their country on the international stage. Still, it wasn't enough and she had to take 30 days unpaid leave.
There are two full-time curlers in the UK: David Murdoch and Euan Byers. Kelly is hopeful that she might take a year's sabbatical and join their ranks in 2009. But, as ever, it will come down to money.