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Caithness sporting stars in the spotlight at awards event

By Iain Grant

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From left: Laura Durrand, Sportswoman of the Year; Tom Armitage, Junior Sportsperson of the Year; Ken Nicol, Caithness service to sport award; Mark Mackay, Sportsperson of the Year; and Bill Robertson, chairman of Caithness Sports Council. Picture: Willie Mackay
From left: Laura Durrand, Sportswoman of the Year; Tom Armitage, Junior Sportsperson of the Year; Ken Nicol, Caithness service to sport award; Mark Mackay, Sportsperson of the Year; and Bill Robertson, chairman of Caithness Sports Council. Picture: Willie Mackay

Leading lights in the Caithness sporting scene in 2023 have been honoured.

Golf, badminton, swimming and horse riding were in the spotlight at Caithness Sports Council's annual awards ceremony in Thurso.

Chairman Bill Robertson handed out the four performance awards as well as presenting local kayaking stalwart Ken Nicol with Scottish ClubSport's Caithness service to sport award.

Thurso Golf Club's Laura Durrand picked up the Sportswoman of the Year trophy.

She has been the leading female player at the club for many years but everything came together to make this year her most memorable yet as she broke the ladies' course record twice.

Laura held the previous record of 71, which she set 15 years ago.

That was broken in June when she carded a 70, and two weeks later she trimmed a further shot off it.

She won the club championship for the fifth year in a row, her ninth in total.

It also helped her cut her handicap to 0, meaning she now plays off scratch, the first female golfer in Caithness to do this.

Laura was selected to play for the Northern Counties team which won the district qualifier to compete in the Scottish area finals for the first time since 2009.

She bagged a hole-in-one in the practice round for the finals in which she helped her team to finish runners-up.

As well as playing, she spends several hours every week coaching, being an ever-present at the Wednesday evening junior sessions, and she will also happily give a lesson to anyone in need of a bit of help.

Mark Mackay won the Sportsperson of the Year for his successes on the badminton court.

The long-time undisputed number one player in the county continued his winning ways this year, both in the regular open competitions and on the masters circuit.

The 48-year-old from Dunnet is the reigning European masters silver medal holder in men’s singles and bronze medallist in mixed doubles.

And his Midas touch is showing no sign of waning. This year he won 16 titles, starting with the Dunfermline Open in January and ending with last month's Orkney Crystal championship.

Other highlights have included winning the treble at the Scottish international masters, the Highland restricted championships and the Caithness invitation tournament.

He also returned with gold medals from the Glasgow Open, the Orkney Open, the Highland Open and the Northumberland Open.

Mark extended his reign as Caithness men's number one to 25 years, while in the latest Scottish rankings he stood seventh in the men’s singles and fourth in mixed doubles in Scotland.

This year's Junior Sportsperson of the Year is Tom Armitage, of Thurso Amateur Swimming Club.

His coaches describe the 16-year-old's dedication to his sport as exemplary, with swimming well known for its intense training regime and high demands, often at anti-social hours.

His weekly schedule adds up to 12.5 hours during which he can swim more than 30,000 metres.

Tom also takes part in weekly strength and conditioning sessions in the next-door gym.

He has travelled the length and breadth of Scotland competing for both his club and the Highland Swim Team.

In addition to his many club successes, he has chalked up a number of district and national honours. He qualified for 12 North District individual events, making the final in 10 and winning bronze in the 200-metre backstroke.

In the Scottish National Age Group Swimming Championships he qualified for 11 events, making the final in six and coming home with a bronze in the 200m backstroke.

Tom reached three finals in the Glasgow International Swim Meet and two finals in the Edinburgh International Swim Meet.

He also qualified for 10 events at the Scottish open meet and won the sprint double in the breaststroke in the Scottish national summer meet in times which put him among the top 24 swimmers in the UK.

He is training hard for next month's finals of the Scottish schools championships in East Kilbride as one of the favourites in his favoured events.

The Lady Thurso Rosebowl for the Caithness Para Sportsperson of the Year is to go to 11-year-old Kayden Malcolm.

Kayden was diagnosed in 2013 with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy when his family was told he would not be able to walk and would require the lifelong use of a walking frame.

But following a major fundraising campaign so he could undergo a trailblazing procedure in a US hospital, his condition significantly improved.

Very early in life, he discovered a love of riding and has become a popular member of the Caithness branch of the Riding for the Disabled Association.

Kayden has gained confidence and has become a skilful rider, with the activity continuing to improve his core strength, balance and posture.

Unfortunately he has not been keeping the best of health recently and was unable to attend the ceremony in North Shore Surf Club's base at Thurso East.

A separate event will be held to present him with his trophy.

The awards were announced by Councillor Willie Mackay.

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