Volunteer Caroline is a contender for city sports award

A DECADE ago Caroline Johnston's young son told her he wanted to play tennis.

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Caroline Johnstone with son Neil
Caroline Johnstone with son Neil

His big brother, Callum, was already enjoying the sport, and the young Neil, then six, was desperate to join in.

But he has cerebral palsy and is deaf, and his heavy wheelchair was not manoeuvrable enough to play the sport.

So Caroline launched Neil's Wheels, which raised money to buy sports wheelchairs for Neil, 17, and other disabled children in Glasgow's West End.

A decade later the charity has 27 chairs and three RaceRunners – bikes with three wheels that are moved by running rather than pedalling and can be used by people with limited mobility – and has an alumni that includes Paralympic wheelchair tennis player Gordon Reid.

Caroline, 57, from Kelvindale, who also founded the Cleveden Community Club to encourage families in the West End to try out different sports and hobbies, has been nominated for the Evening Times Glasgow Volunteer Sportsperson Of The Year Award.

She is nominated alongside badminton line judge Davina Gemmell and tennis coach Mary McCabe, at the Sportsperson Of The Year Awards 2012.

Caroline, who works for Glasgow Life, which runs the city's museums and sports facilities, said: "One of the things I will be proud of on that night is that there will be a few people I saw when they were very young."

She said she was the first person to push Gordon Reid, now 22, from Helensburgh on to a tennis court and was there when Paralympic swimmer Andrew Mullen, now 16, from Newton Mearns, first jumped in a swimming pool.

"It is fantastic to see how they have come on and they are role models for the other youngsters," said Caroline.

"What that shows is anybody can go out and do something at any level."

Over the years, Neil's Wheels has helped more than 80 youngsters to access sports, including wheelchair tennis, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair football and boccia.

Twice a year Caroline organises Wheelchair Camps at Cleveden Secondary School, which offer multi-sport activities for children in the holidays.

And every Saturday she helps run RaceRunning sessions with disabled sports club Red Star Athletics.

Caroline said Cleveden Secondary had been very supportive of her initiatives, hosting the Neil's Wheels holiday camp and providing a space for Cleveden Community Club.

She said: "I am a great believer in allowing people to access sports. For those who are disadvantaged or disabled it is pretty obvious what they can't do, but I am not interested in what they can't do, let us show them what they can do.

"The greatest thing I can hear from anyone I ever work with is 'I never knew I could do that'.

"It doesn't feel like I am volunteering my time to do it, I get a huge kick out of watching people do stuff and sharing their successes with them.

"The success of one child, getting into a wheelchair, rolling themselves across the room by themselves for the first time, watching that child have an independence they otherwise would not have had, is ... you can't describe the joy of that."

Three years ago Cleveden Community Club was founded after Caroline secured locals access to the sports facilities and swimming pool.

The club meets every second Sunday, with an average of 80 people coming along to play sport and spend time together.

Caroline praised the Scotsperson Of The Year Awards.

She said: "I feel a bit of a fraud really. I might be involved in all these organisations, but there are a lot of people behind me and it just happens to be my name at the top of that tree.

"But, for all of us together, I think it is a great award to have and a great category.

"There is some fantastic work going on in the voluntary sector, so long may the award be there but it is quite nice to be in there with the nominees."

Councillor Archie Graham, chairman of Glasgow Life and the city council's spokesman for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, paid tribute to all the nominees.

He said: "2012 will long be remembered as a year of sport, a year when the nation came together to celebrate the triumphs of our athletes.

"I look forward to reliving the highlights with the people who created them at Glasgow's Sports Person Of The Year awards.

"We are now engaged in a sort of marathon of our own, discussing the many successes of all those nominated and selecting the winner in each of the 13 categories. That in itself is no mean feat.

"I think every nominee is already a winner and congratulate each of them in reaching this stage and on all their achievements over the last year."

matty.sutton@ eveningtimes.co.uk

The Sportsperson Of The Year Awards 2012 ceremony will take place at the City Chambers on Friday February 1. A full list of the winners will be in the Evening Times on Monday February 4.

SPORTING volunteers from two of Glasgow's local clubs have also been nominated for the top award.

Davina Gemmell and Mary McCabe are in the running, alongside Caroline Johnston, for the Volunteer Of The Year Award.

Davina, 59, from the city's South Side, has been involved in badminton in Scotland for the past 30 years.

She is one of Scotland's most long-standing and influential volunteers at local, national and international level and has managed the line judge control at the Scottish International Championships since 2005.

As a volunteer line judge she has travelled all over the world, working at Commonwealth Games and sporting events, including last year's Olympics.

Next year, she is hoping to volunteer as a line judge when Glasgow hosts the Commonwealth Games.

She said: "I was thrilled when they told me they wanted to nominate me, it is a nice honour to be put forward. I enjoy volunteering so much.

"I have been really lucky because I have travelled to lots of different places.

"The first big line judging event was at the Commonwealth Games in 1986 in Edinburgh and I have loved it since.

"I also am involved in running tournaments so I see the younger ones growing up through the years and it is lovely to see them.

"I have always enjoyed it."

Mary McCabe, from Cardonald, took over as secretary of Queen's Park Community Tennis Club in 2007 and also volunteers as a coach.

She also volunteers to support Glasgow Life events and helped with the Torch Relay Event, National School Sport Week. Friends Of Victoria Park Fun Day, Sports Showcase and the opening of the Emirates Arena.

She is also leading a campaign to refurbish the old pavilion in Queen's Park and sits on the board of Tennis West Of Scotland.

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