having a ball in bid for olympic place

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EVEN as a youngster she was known for her determination, single-handedly setting up a school volleyball team from scratch just so she could pursue her love of the sport.

Aged 14, spending endless hours in the sports hall at Mary Erskine’s, a young Shauna Mullin would perfect her moves, build up her strength and aspire to be the very best she possibly could.

But never in her wildest dreams did the Ravelston teenager think that one day she would be in with a chance of representing Great Britain at the Olympic Games – or even be remotely in the running for a medal.

“When you let yourself think about it, it’s insane,” the 26-year-old laughs.

Shauna hit the headlines earlier this month when she and her Great Britain women’s beach volleyball team-mate Zara Dampney caused a stir for agreeing to feature their sponsor’s branding on their bums. The feminists went mad, the men went wild, and the two sportswomen lapped up the attention the story was inadvertently giving to their sport.

Whichever way it was viewed, the story was prompting people to talk about beach volleyball, a sport which is yet to develop on home soil the popularity it enjoys overseas in more exotic locations, and where Shauna spends most of the year travelling to to represent Great Britain.

Back at Mary Erskine’s, it was all about indoor volleyball, Shauna and her classmates giving their best shot at a sport which has always played second fiddle to the likes of football and swimming in schools across the county. But for Shauna, her first taste of the sport began on the beach – and that is where her heart really lay.

“My dad is a hotel manager so we travelled around a lot when I was younger,” she explains. “It was when we were in Malaysia that I first had a go at beach volleyball as I went to a US school and it is massive there. I didn’t have any coaching, I just loved the game and I would play it on the beach at the hotel my dad was working at.”

When the time came to move to Edinburgh, where her dad, Enda, took over at the helm of the Caledonian Hotel, all Shauna was bothered about was making sure her new school would have a volleyball team for her to join – even though a beach team would likely be out of the question owing to the Edinburgh climate.

“I chose a school based on whether it had a volleyball team,” the sportswoman laughs, taking time out of her hectic schedule overseas to be interviewed by telephone. “Mary Erskine’s said it had one so I told my parents that’s all I needed to know. I remember my mum saying I should really visit the school first, just to be sure I liked it, but nothing else really mattered.

“When I got there, on my first day, I asked about the team and they said they no longer had one. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’

“So, I set one up. I got all the friends I had made together and said, ‘I know you’ve only known me for about a week, but please!’”

It was her passion that drove her on, her skills getting better and better as each year at school passed. And that didn’t go unnoticed.

“I was doing my homework one evening and my mum came in to say she’d just had a phone call,” Shauna explains. “She told me to get my volleyball stuff together and we headed to South Queensferry High School where the team that played there was in the national league. Their coach had seen me play and asked me to join.”

And that is when things took off, with Shauna eventually finding a place in the Team Edinburgh squad, before being asked to represent Scotland at both a junior and senior level.

By the time she left school and was entering her last year of a management and business law degree at Heriot-Watt University, she was a well-known face on the volleyball scene and was asked to take part in a tournament in Poole – but this time on the beach.

“I hadn’t really played beach volleyball since I was in Malaysia,” she says. “I went and it was amazing. Eventually one of the British coaches asked me to join the team based down in Bath. I said yes straight away, but he was very keen for me to visit so I knew if I really liked it.

“I said I had lived in lots of different places and I knew I would be fine wherever I was, but he wanted me to go down. So I did, and on the first day I said, ‘Can I come?’.”

Shauna has certainly done more than her fair share of travelling, having been born in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she lived for ten years before moving to Penang, in Malaysia, for four years before arriving in Edinburgh where her family has been based right up until this year, her dad’s work this time taking him and her mum, Sue, to Jordan. Her younger brother Rory, 24, has recently moved to Dublin.

But Edinburgh will always be home, Shauna explains, her accent offering little clue to her having lived anywhere but the Capital. “It is where I feel I am from, where I did most of my growing up and where I always say I am from,” she says.

It is indeed “Edinburgh” she puts down on all official documentation as she travels the globe representing Great Britain, flying the flag both for her home city and the nation.

And she has been doing a lot of that lately, having spent most of the last year jetting between Australia, New Zealand, Los Angeles, Brazil and the Great Britain team’s European training base in Tenerife.

“I couldn’t do this if I were a home bird,” she laughs.

Earlier this month she was back in the UK to take part in the test event for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, disappointed that she and her team-mate Zara, from Dorset, were put out in the quarter-finals by Brazil.

But the blow has done nothing but further fuel her desire to secure a place in the competition, hoping to not have to rely on a wildcard entry into the event. Currently ranked 24th in the world, the Great Britain women’s beach volleyball team must rise to 16th by next June if they are to be assured of a place.

“There are days when we are tired and we think ‘What if we don’t get to the Olympics?’ but we just need to stay relaxed and calm. If we put in the work, we will be there and a medal wouldn’t be out of the question.

“I cannot even imagine what it could be like to have a crowd of 15,000 people watching us play – never mind cheering us on.”

catherine.salmond@edinburghnews.com