Lara Stirling is used to travelling to play table tennis against her peers – but she’s making her longest trip for the sport next month.
The 24-year-old, from Shieldhill, flies out to India in a bid to help Scotland qualify for the Commonwealth Championships.
It’s the highest ranking tournament the sports therapist has competed in since picking up a bat a decade and a half ago.
As soon as she did, she had found the sport for her and she continues to train at The Grange Centre in Brightons two or three times a week.
“I used to play a bit of tennis,” she admitted, “but there were some summer games on and I tried table tennis and did well and then got hooked on it.”
She explained: “Not a lot of girls play – I’m the only one at my level in my club.”
And so Lara crosses the country to compete or train with female partners and competitors. Closer to home she practises with the veteran men at The Grange – a high calibre of training with Gordon Waddell, Gerry Campbell, Richard Masterson and Alan Whitton set for international competition at the Six Nations later this year.
She added: “We have a good laugh but they are great players with a really good background in the sport.
“Falkirk and Stirlingshire has always had quite a strong connection to table tennis. There has always been Scotland internationals since way back to when they used the Drill Hall in Cow Wynd.
“Now there is a youth section at the club but there is always room for more, and it would be good to see it grow.”
Especially on the female side. Lara, who works in Skin Geek on Redding Road, partners with Rebecca Plaistow, Scotland’s number one from Kilbirnie in Ayrshire – together they’re the Scottish Doubles champions – and travels to practise with her or compete as regularly as possible. As well as the travelling there’s also the familiarity.
“We’re spread out all over the country,” she added. “But it is important to try and replicate the conditions because it is a different style of game from the men’s game.
“But in the ladies’ sections it’s such a small pool and I have been on the circuit so you get to know it quite well.”
Next month, in Delhi she’ll be exposed to a high calibre of opposition – some of the best in the world – as she progresses through the ranks that have taken her from picking up the paddle to her first Scotland cadet cap at 14 through to last year’s international selection for a match against Bulgaria and a recent trip to Hungary.
“It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to it. It’s good Scotland are sending a team out because there are some tournaments they wouldn’t.
“With only a few players at my level in Scotland it’ll be good to catch up with the girls again but also interesting to play against people I’ve not faced before. That’ll be quite a new experience and difficult because there will be some top players there. But it is a challenge I’m looking forward to and have been working towards.”