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Top athletes in town for first sports conference

Dame Kelly Holmes visits Shetland for the first time to speak at the inaugural sports conference in Lerwick. Photo: ShetNews/Chris Cope

THE INAUGURAL Shetland Sports Conference got under way this weekend as locals heard talks from athletics icon Dame Kelly Holmes and Paralympian and adventurer Karen Darke.

The one-day event, which was hosted by Shetland Islands Council at the Clickimin Leisure Complex on Saturday, featured a plethora of presentations, workshops and sessions designed to help local sportspeople realise their potential.

The conference was opened by council convener – and qualified football referee – Malcolm Bell, who said the isles “punch above their weight” in sport before noting achievements this year at events such as the Island Games in Jersey.

Among the workshops led by local sports figures in areas such as strength and conditioning, coaching and club committees, were guest talks from Dame Kelly Holmes and Karen Darke.

Holmes – who in 2004 became Britain’s first double gold winner in the 800m and 1,500m events at the Olympics in 84 years – attended the conference after her charity trust was involved in BP’s Young Leaders programme last year, which featured eight Shetlanders.

She kept her promise to visit the isles and the athlete said before her talk that her work with the Dame Kelly Homes Trust sees her give something back following a hugely fruitful career.

“Today I’m going to show the work we do to change the lives of disadvantaged young people and people from areas of deprivation,” Holmes said.

“We utilise skills of sports people to mentor young people, and also to get them back into education, training or employment. It will also show what we can do possibly in partnership with various organisations up here.

“We realise that sports people predominantly become quite good role models, and the young people we work with don’t always like authoritative figures telling them what to do. But what they respond well to is people who have been there, done it and have an empathy.”

Holmes, who left the army aged 27 before becoming a full-time athlete, said that her biggest achievement was – perhaps unsurprisingly – winning two golds at the Athens Olympics eleven years ago.

“I always had a dream of being an Olympian since I was 14,” she added.

Paralympian Karen Darke in conversation at the Shetland Sports Conference. Photo: ShetNews/Chris Cope

The first guest talk of the day meanwhile came from sportswoman Karen Darke, who won silver at the London 2012 Paralympics women’s road time trial H1-2.

The cyclist was paralysed aged 21 after falling while cliff climbing, with Darke breaking her back.

However, the Paralympic medal-winner – who has visited Shetland before, once with the local sea kayaking club – said that using the mind to her advantage saw her come through the terrifying ordeal.

“My talk is about adventure, overcoming challenges and using the mind. I think of the mind as being something that can control us, or we can use it to help us and control it as well,” she said.

“There’s all sorts of different barriers [to getting ahead in sport], but usually the biggest one is your own mind. There’s also practical things as well, like the cost of equipment or travel.

“But I suppose my advice to Shetlanders interested in sport is to believe in yourself and pursue your dreams. If you do that, and you’re passionate about it, then a lot of things can happen.”

Darke met with local Kriss Moulder, who has been involved in wheelchair athletics for over two years, before speaking to a healthy audience of around 100 attentive onlookers.

The athlete, who has embarked on adventures such as handcycling through the Himalayas, also reflected on the inner turmoil she felt after her accident.

“When the drugs wore off, I had about a week where I felt really depressed. I was really low, where I just hid under the sheets,” she said.

“It was like sleeping was a dream, and waking up was a nightmare – literally. But then you think you’ve got a choice – you can either live miserably, or be happy. So I thought I would get onto it.

“A really close friend of mine died in a climbing accident about three months after my accident. So that made me think, I’m alive and he’s not – I need to get on and make the most of it.

“There are worse situations, and some people don’t survive accidents, so you value life more.”