Sports conference lifts off with star appearances

Two inspirational figures were the guest speakers at the inaugural Shetland Sports Conference today which saw people from throughout the sporting community treated to a variety of seminars.

The household figure of gold-medal winning Dame Kelly Holmes topped the bill at the conference, but just as interesting was the, lesser known, member of the paralympian cyclist team and adventurer Karen Darke.

It was not the first visit to Shetland, or even the Clickimin Centre, for Darke, who opened the conference, as she was here previously on a sea kayaking trip.

Darke, who was a geologist and outdoor enthusiast before becoming paralysed in a climbing accident is an expert on using the mind to overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles. Indeed, some of her adventuring accomplishments would daunt most fit, fully able people.

She said before the conference started that she was in Shetland to “talk about challenges, and overcoming challenges and using a mindset. I think of the mind as something that can control us, or we can use it to help us, we can control  it.”

Dame Kelly Holmes

According to Darke, as well as the practicalities of becoming a top athlete, such as cost of equipment and travel, the biggest worries are usually those of the mind.

She added: “My advise is just to try and pursue your dream. If you do that and are passionate about it then incredible things happen that you might not think could otherwise.”

Holmes said that she had fancied visiting Shetland but the real trigger was meeting a group of young Shetlanders on a personal development programme who were part of BP’s Young Leaders programme prior to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

She was to showcase the work of the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, one of whose aims is to help disadvantaged youngsters succeed and find work through the mentoring of elite athletes, many of whom the youngsters can identify as inspirational figures.

“We utilise the skills of sports people who mentor the young people and our outcomes are to get them back into education, training or employment,” she said. “Hopefully,” she said of her Shetland visit,  “that will show what we can do, possibly in partnership with various organisations up here.”

Holmes’s own athletics career  was remarkable: a keen amateur, she became judo champion of the army and ran in the men’s 800m races in the forces. Back in civilian life she concentrated on her running, and in the span of three 1500m races went from posting an “average club” time of 4.17 to a world class performance of 4.01, beating Yvonne Murray in the process.

Holmes, who specialised in the 800m and 1,500m events, won a gold medal for both distances  at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. She set British records in numerous events and still holds the records over the 600, 800, 1000 and 1,500m distances.


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