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Caithness surfing duo and rugby player among Highland athletes to benefit from travel scheme

By Jean Gunn

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Scottish surfing champion Mark Boyd says it is great to receive support from the SportScotland travel scheme. Picture: James Gunn
Scottish surfing champion Mark Boyd says it is great to receive support from the SportScotland travel scheme. Picture: James Gunn

Three high-performing sporting aces from Caithness are among a group of 14 in the Highlands who have been awarded grants from SportScotland’s Athlete Travel Award Scheme.

The funding will help surfing duo Mark Boyd and Craig McLachlan and rugby player Shannon Pasotti to excel in their chosen sports, along with 11 others from across the region including runners, golfers and mountain bikers.

Details of the scheme – which promotes equal opportunities to participate, progress and achieve success on the national and international stage – were announced by Scotland's sports minister Maree Todd.

Ms Todd, who is the MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, was visiting Dingwall Academy as part of Scottish Women and Girls in Sport Week and met one of the successful athletes, Stephen Mackay (29), an endurance runner from Inverness.

“The Athlete Travel Award Scheme supports those athletes from rural, remote and island communities to overcome some of the challenges they face, such as access to facilities and travel costs," Ms Todd explained.

“I am delighted that for the first time Highland athletes will benefit from the scheme and I look forward to seeing more from these athletes in future as they continue to excel in their chosen sport.”

Graham Lindsay (SportScotland), Mags Duncan (High Life Highland) and Maree Todd (sports minister) with endurance runner Stephen Mackay.
Graham Lindsay (SportScotland), Mags Duncan (High Life Highland) and Maree Todd (sports minister) with endurance runner Stephen Mackay.

The Athlete Travel Award Scheme is a partnership between SportScotland and the participating local authorities – Orkney Islands, Western Isles and Shetland Islands as well as Highland.

It is aimed at helping "elite pathway" athletes – athletes with the potential to compete at a high level – to gain better access to competition and training opportunities without having to relocate from their communities.

Athletes can apply for sums up to £1500 through an application process. They are required to show evidence of how the grant will improve their performance and give them access to quality training and competition opportunities to support their development.

One of the local athletes to benefit from the award scheme is the reigning Scottish surfing champion, Mark Boyd.

Mark (34), who is captain of the Scottish surfing team, said: "It is great to have some support for the travel we do from SportScotland.

"It will make getting to events easier, although a lot of things have been cancelled this year. I have put the funding I received towards training trips as well as the few events which did take place this year, most of which were south of the border."

Mark will be defending his title at the Scottish National Surfing Championships taking place at Thurso from November 5-7 – the first since 2019.

He has been the reigning Scottish champion since 2018. "I am feeling good," Mark said. "I had a bit of an injury this last few weeks, which was unfortunate, but I'm confident and looking forward to competing again."

Another local surfer, 16-year-old Craig McLachlan, also received funding which he has put towards travelling to a number of Scottish competitions this year as well as training events.

In October, Craig was delighted to win the under-16 title at the Scottish junior nationals which took place at Sandend, Aberdeenshire, and the week before that he won the junior boys' section at Tynemouth Open Surf Contest.

Over the season he has participated in five Scottish junior competitions, taking the overall title in both the under-16 and under-18 boys' sections.

After a successful season, the fifth-year Thurso High School pupil is now busy making sure he gets enough surf in before this weekend's championships in Thurso where he will be making his debut in the men's event – a big step up for him.

He is also looking ahead to next year when he hopes to take part in the World Junior Surfing Championship in El Salvador.

Shannon Pasotti races clear to score a try for Caithness Krakens against Orkney Dragons in the Caledonia North Region League. Picture: James Gunn
Shannon Pasotti races clear to score a try for Caithness Krakens against Orkney Dragons in the Caledonia North Region League. Picture: James Gunn

Shannon Pasotti, who turns 18 on Wednesday, says the Athlete Travel Award Scheme will make a big difference in helping her make the transition from youth to senior rugby.

Shannon, who lives in Thurso, has played in the Scottish Futures U18s performance development programme and has Scotland women's assessment camps coming up.

She has been turning out for Caithness Krakens in the Caledonia North Region League and also plays for Caithness U18s.

"Being awarded this money will make a massive difference to my rugby development as it will allow me to get away to more competitive training sessions and games, enabling me to move from youth to senior rugby," she said.

"It will also prepare me better for my Scotland women's assessment camps in the near future."

Shannon is in her second year of a sports and fitness degree with the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The Highland-based athletes who have been successful in this round of applications are:

  • Stephen Mackay (athletics, based in Inverness)
  • Summer Elliot (golf, Inverness)
  • Sophie Barrie (badminton, Inverness)
  • Shannon Pasotti (rugby, Thurso)
  • Ollie Smith (rugby, Inverness)
  • Megan Keith (athletics and orienteering, Inverness)
  • Mark Boyd (surfing, Thurso)
  • Lucas Cairns (athletics, Fortrose)
  • Jack Mann (golf, Avoch)
  • Douglas Goodwill (downhill mountain biking, Beauly)
  • Daniel Parfitt (downhill mountain biking, Fort William)
  • Craig McLachlan (surfing, Thurso)
  • Alice Kemsley (orienteering, Nethy Bridge)
  • Alexander Mackay (athletics, Dingwall)
Inverness athlete Stephen Mackay with Scotland's sports minister Maree Todd.
Inverness athlete Stephen Mackay with Scotland's sports minister Maree Todd.

Stephen Mackay, who has represented Scotland at 3000m and is Inverness Harriers' 1500m record holder, says the additional support will make a big difference to Highland athletes.

“Being in the north can be a bit of a disadvantage as straight away you’ve got that additional cost just to get down the road which you maybe don’t have if you are based in the central belt," Stephen said. "So this funding makes it easier to get to competitions and get to the level of training camp that we need to as full-time athletes.

“As an endurance runner you need to spend a couple of months at altitude.

“I’m hoping to make the Commonwealth Games standard for either the 800m or 1500m and to do that I’m going to have to race in bigger meets across Europe. There will be some opportunities in the UK as well but to be honest, living in Inverness, it doesn’t matter if it’s the UK or Europe as you must travel anyway.

"It can be expensive so sometimes it’s just as cheap to go to Europe and get a better-quality race. This funding is crucial to allow me to do that as it takes out some of the worries and the cost.”

As part of the package of support, High Life Highland has given the athletes supported by the scheme free access to all its facilities across the region.

Stephen, who also trains with Olympians Laura Muir and Jemma Reekie in Glasgow, added: “I use the track but also the new gym facility in Inverness. They’ve got a strength and conditioning suite which is really good – to be honest it’s one of the best I’ve ever used.

"That’s where I train normally, but with High Life Highland you can now train anywhere in the Highlands for free, so if you’re away for the weekend you can nip into any sports centre.

"I’ve also got Inverness Royal Academy next to me, so I use that as well and just having that flexibility is so handy.”

SportScotland chief executive Stewart Harris said: “At SportScotland we recognise the specific challenges faced by athletes in Highland. That is why we are delighted to provide this investment through the Athlete Travel Award Scheme, in partnership with High Life Highland.

"By working together, we can deliver services locally through the SportScotland Institute of Sport and High Life Highland, while providing additional support to allow talented athletes to travel to competitions and progress in their chosen sport.

“It’s fantastic to see these first athletes from Highland who are set to benefit from the scheme, and we look forward to seeing how their sporting careers progress.”

SportScotland has allocated each of the four local authorities in the Highland and Islands £10,000, with the councils or leisure trusts then required to top this up with £2000 of their own funding, plus the equivalent of £3000 of management and administrative time.

Mags Duncan, head of sports development for High Life Highland, said: "We are delighted to work in partnership with SportScotland to bring this additional funding to support talented athletes across Highland. The funding will support them to access specialist training and competitions which will be of benefit for their development.”

Up to 32 athletes from across the four Highland and Islands local authorities will benefit from support in 2021/22. Now in its third year of funding, the scheme has already supported 48 athletes across the island authorities.

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