Team GB curler Hugh Nibloe: From dominoes to the Winter Paralympics

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Published
Image source, PPA Graeme Hart
Image caption,
Hugh Nibloe is part of Team GB's wheelchair curling side for the Winter Paralympics

When Hugh Nibloe from Stranraer takes to the ice at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing in March it will the latest stage in a remarkable journey.

A keen rugby player in his youth he played for his school team and Wigtownshire RFC before joining the merchant navy.

Then he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) about 16 years ago.

A new sport - wheelchair curling - has played a big part in helping him to cope with the condition.

"I got diagnosed with MS back in 2005/6 and unfortunately my health declined and I ended up in a wheelchair permanently by about 2010," he said.

"At that point my only competitive output was dominoes.

"I was actually in a pub in Stranraer playing dominoes when the then coach of the Stranraer wheelchair team Brian Park came up and asked me if I fancied trying wheelchair curling and I said: 'Sure I'll give it a go'."

Image source, Getty Images

That was in the summer of 2012 and when he got out onto the ice in October the 40-year-old quickly became addicted to the sport.

"It's been massive - not just physically but mentally," he said.

"I have got friends all over the country and all over the world now so curling has definitely played a huge part in helping me battle against MS."

It has also helped him channel his old rugby instincts.

"Dominoes was my only competitive output and I couldn't really get aggressive in dominoes whereas on the ice I can throw some stones hard down the ice and batter things that way - so it's been good," he said.

"And it's managed to get me back into the cold and freezing which - for some sadistic reason - I seem to really enjoy.

"So it's been really good that way."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Nibloe says he enjoys being able to "get aggressive" on the ice

Nibloe is part of a five-strong Team GB side along with fellow Scots Gregor Ewan, Meggan Dawson-Farrell, David Melrose and alternate Charlotte McKenna.

Thanks to National Lottery funding, they have been putting in long training sessions in Stirling ahead of the Paralympics in China which are less than 50 days away.

For the man from Dumfries and Galloway it means travelling about 115-miles each way three days a week while he also does strength, cardiovascular and tactical work when back at home in Stranraer.

It is the kind of dedication he hopes pays off at his second Paralympics after taking part in 2018.

"It's huge," he said.

"It's what you battle for every year and you try and make sure that playing for Scotland you qualify for GB for the Paralympics.

"It's the pinnacle of the sport, and it's where you want to be, and I've been to one as a viewer and one as an athlete and I know I want to go to more as an athlete."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Beijing will be the second Winter Paralympics the Stranraer curler has been part of

He knows the competition will be tough but he believes a podium spot is possible.

"We know that we can medal," he said.

"We know we can be up there and we know that we will be one of the teams that other teams are looking at the fixture list when it comes out thinking that's going to be a tough game and one that they want to win.

"I think with curling being from Scotland we are always targeted - even with the GB flag on, we're still targeted as the home of curling so we know everybody wants to take our scalp.

"That's just something that adds to the excitement for us and just means that we have to be at our best every single game."

A wheelchair curling medal at the Winter Paralympics would crown his exceptional progress in the sport - and would certainly be celebrated in the Stranraer hostelries where he once played a very different game.

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