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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Five things I learned from hanging out with Team Glenn Howard

The Team Glenn Howard Fantasy Curling Camp wrapped up at the Guelph Curling Club on Sunday afternoon, ending three days of - of - of what? Learning, laughing, and a fair bit of pain (delivery, after delivery, after delivery....!) Moments of illumination, moments (long ones!) of frustration. Good times with new friends. Lots of failure. A few successes. And a long list of "Things I'm going to do correctly from now on...."

Those boys - Glenn Howard, Richard Hart, Jon Mead and Craig Savill - make it look pretty darn easy. It isn't, as any curler knows. Having a chance to slide shakily out of the hack with a world champion skip critiquing your form, and then watching him demonstrate the ease and brilliance on the ice that years of dedicated training produce, well, "humbling" is the only word that comes to mind.

The Crazy 8s winners celebrate after outscoring the opposition (um, that would be
the campers!)

So here are five things I learned from hanging out with Team Glenn Howard and a staff of coaches and trainers at curling camp this past weekend:

1. Jon Mead is dead funny. Just in case you didn't know. We all know Glenn, Rich and Craig are jokers, but Jon is new on the Team Howard scene. He's got that serious expression on his face, and he's pretty fierce on the ice too, but oh my, he is scary funny. Some pretty good behind-the-scenes stories about life on the elite curling circuit, too.

2. You need really, really, really strong legs to be a curler. Just saying. I don't have those legs. In and out of the hack, up and down the ice on sweeping drills, (rocky) delivery after (rocky) delivery. Day One, then Day Two, then Day Three - the knees are burning, the quads are protesting. Hurray for that wonderful invention known as [insert name of painkiller of your choice here].

The camp coaches: Wendy Morgan, Maurice Wilson, Brian Savill and Jen Ferris,
after entertaining the crowd during the Crazy 8s competition.

3. Canadian flags and Olympic gold medals make me cry. Wendy Morgan, the Team Leader for the Canadian Paralympic Curling Team - yup, the team that won a third straight Olympic gold medal for Canada at the Sochi Games - gave us a slideshow of her experiences in Russia. She got choked up. Sitting in the audience, I got choked up. I hope all Canadian curlers - and sports fans - appreciate the incredible accomplishment of those athletes - Jim Armstrong, Ida Forrest, Dennis Thiessen, Sonja Gaudet and Mark Ideson, with their coach Joe Rae. Bad ice, bad rocks, difficult conditions - they just kept going forward, keeping positive, and winning games - and gold medals. From their wheelchairs. I am in awe, and I think the rest of the room felt the same.

Talking strategy before their turn at Crazy 8s, and in the distance, just between Craig and Jon, there's
coach and Balance Plus equipment expert Scott Taylor,
who coached us all (with help from wife, Bonnie) on our line of delivery, and who,
on the final afternoon, draped the chairs in the club room with jackets and shirts
from his long career of Briers and World Championships with Team Howard, and told us
to pick one and take it home. What a gesture!
(I know what I'm wearing for the Halloween Party at Friday Night Social Curling this year!)

4. Curlers are nice. I know I've said this before (like, in every blog I write), but it can't be said often enough. We were thrown together in groups of eight - two "teams" - who travelled together from session to session. We ended up eating together, hanging out, laughing, swapping emails. New friends, all because of curling. And everyone with something to offer - like a story about a bonspiel, or a suggestion about equipment, or advice on which dessert to pick from the buffet at lunch. Good times with good people. Curlers are nice.

Teams 13 and 14 with that guy, you know? That guy?
And lastly...

5. I learned what it feels like to make a big final shot. Yes, the stars - or rocks - aligned in our game on the last day. A long run-back double. I saw it, I resisted it, I finally went with it (much to my third's delight), and I threw it. Against all expectations, I made it - how?! Because my delivery had been so perfected from three days of close instruction on position and line? Because those sessions on confidence and mental toughness finally kicked in? I don't know, but I do know I felt as if I had just won the Scotties on last rock. That's probably as close as I'll ever get to a championship moment, so I'm going to tuck it away in my collection of great curling memories and bring it out every now and then for a look.

Dale gets some one-on-one advice on how to throw those big-weight bombs.
Or they may have been talking hairstyles. Not sure.

We hung around at the club as the crowd dwindled, gave the coaches and amazing Team Howard players a hug and a handshake. Then we went home to feed the dog and crash on the couch - and soak in a hot bath with epsom salts!

I'm still smiling - and I didn't even tell you about the Hospitality Room....

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Things I learned at a Learn to Curl session - and I was the teacher!

Learn to Curls are in full swing at my curling club, and I'm doing my volunteer duty by helping out at a few evening sessions.

Last night was a classic. Eight complete newbies followed my teaching buddy (Tiffany, a university student) and me out to Sheet 4. We did some warmups, split the group into two, and got to work on sliding, sweeping, rules and more. Two hours (and one scoreless end) later, we assembled around a table in the club room to do what curlers do - hang out and chat after two hours on the ice together.

These tired, somewhat sore, but enthusiastic new curlers thanked Tiffany and me for the session. It was clear they had learned a lot, but truthfully, I think I was the one who learned the most.

So here are the lessons I learned as the instructor at a Learn to Curl session:

Curling is hard

Sometimes as an experienced curler I forget that once upon a time, I was new too. And you know what? Curling is hard. The ice is slippery and it's a struggle to keep your balance while sliding or sweeping. There's a lot to think about when you get into the hack to throw. Remembering all those instructions you just learned about a minute ago... yikes! And it's pretty intimidating to do something new when people are watching you, too. Yup. Curling is hard. Take it slow and be sure to cheer everyone for trying.

Curling is fun

Oh sure, we all know this, but sometimes an impatient skip, or frustratingly tricky ice, or a sore knee, or a bad day at work (you get the idea) suck the pleasure out of it all. I guess last night's session was more of a reminder than anything. Watching these newbies laugh and celebrate every time one of them stayed upright as the rock slid all the way down past the hogline was just plain fun.

Curlers are nice people

Tiffany came to say good-bye as we sat relaxing (and, yes, drinking - some of us, at least) at the post-session table. She had to catch a bus back to her residence at the university and couldn't join us. Are you kidding? No way! One of the newbie couples insisted she stick around for a while and that they would drive her home. Nice people, curlers!

I don't know what my "students" learned - I hope they learned what a great game curling is, and how welcome they are at our club, and how much potential there is for exercising, socializing and giving back to the club and our community. That was my goal, at least, when I started last evening's session.

But I learned something too - and I have a whole new group of curling friends to thank.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Curling treasures

A few curling treasures discovered recently on the bookshelf in the parlour of my cousin's old farmhouse in Nova Scotia:

Looking for instruction, anyone?

I want one of those sweaters. Just saying.

It's all about the draw, says Mr. Weyman. 
And inwicks, outwicks, chaps and chips, of course.

I love this so much, I don't even know what to say about it!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer means...I miss curling!

I miss curling.

There, I said it. I know it’s summer here in Ontario, and I should be grateful for the decidedly ice-unfriendly weather, and that if I really, really wanted to go throw some rocks, I could probably find a club that has summer ice and leagues…

But, well, it’s not the same as stepping out into the cold, starting the car with heater full blast, scraping the windshield, climbing abord and navigating the perils of winter driving to get to the club. (Okay, maybe I don’t miss that part of it…)

But it turns out, my curling life isn’t all that far away, even in summer. Three instances:

Family wedding at Chateau Montebello in Quebec. We’re walking from the outdoor ceremony beside the Ottawa River to the building where the reception will take place. And what do I see?

Yup. Right next door.

The beautiful outdoor space in Guelph known as Riverside Park (and if you ever visit this city, be sure to take a drive or stroll through it!) is honouring my club’s 175th anniversary by dedicating this year’s floral clock to the celebration. I stopped in today. Very cool.

Keeps good time, too.

And – our registration forms for next season have been delivered to the club. Yes, we’re signed up for the 2014-2015 season. I’m sitting here on the deck, enjoying the warm, sunshiney delights of summer and already looking forward to winter. Like curlers everywhere.

Monday, November 11, 2013

CurlingGeek is for curling geeks - I mean, fans - anywhere

So, there I am at the Capital One Road to the Roar - the Canadian Olympic Pre-Trials - in Kitchener this past week, watching Draws 1-18 until I think even I have the tricky ice on Sheet E figured out...

I'm writing a game summary to go on the CCA website (yes, this is my day job) and get distracted by a question/phone call/great shot on another sheet. When I look back, there's Gushue's teaming kicking the last rocks to the backboards and walking away to huddle with the skip before the next end starts. What? The end finished and I have no idea where that steal of two came from! I look down at the ice.....

My view of the ice. So much action to keep track of!!

.....and think to myself: How can I find out what just happened?

Aha! I turn to my secret weapon called CurlingGeek. My heroes, providing shot-by-shot game animation - it looks like one of those magnetic strategy boards - with replay capability, as well as offering commentary on the action (sometimes the commentary is way more entertaining than the action. Just saying, Geeks...) AND a place to chat with other curling fans watching the game. Fans in the arena. Fans at home. Fans in other countries.

CurlingGeek on the job in the rafters
of the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium

Strange as it may seem in this wired age, we don't always have access to video replay. This week in Kitchener, there was no TV coverage until TSN showed up on the weekend. So what's a distracted sports writer to do? For that matter, what's a fan at home or in some distant location to do?

That's the exact void that the CurlingGeek team is trying to fill. They pick a few games (at the Road to the Roar it was two games at a time when two Geeks were on duty) and they provide an alternative on their website for fans who want to experience the game remotely.  OK, the Geeks might not be following the game you want to see, but the Scorekeeper's Notes always include reports from other sheets in action at the same time.

And if you ARE at the game, or watching on TV, the Geeks give you a forum to chat online with other fans, comment on the game, and be part of a one-game-at-a-time curling community. In other words, you too can be a curling geek.

So here's to CurlingGeek. Check out their website during the next big curling event. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter @CurlingGeek.

Hardworking (hey, it's cold up there in the rafters of an arena!), efficient and, may I say, thinking outside the box. I'm their newest fan.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What makes a good Thanksgiving Weekend for a curler?

What makes a good Thanksgiving Weekend for curler? Here's my list:

1. It starts on Friday night by helping at a six-sheet Learn-to-Curl at the Guelph Curling Club for a group of non-curlers in town for a wedding, and realizing I'm still feeling the effects of the Team Howard Fantasy Curling Camp a week ago...

On the ice with Team Howard at the Guelph Curling Club

2. There's beautiful weather for a walk in the woods (to stretch out those sore muscles) and no shortage of Thanksgiving turkey, turkey, turkey (no explanation required....)

Minutes from home, beautiful trails and Fall at its most stunning

3. There's tons of results coming through on Curling Zone,

Always something to read on CurlingZone


4. There's a curling clue in The Globe's Saturday cryptic crossword!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Curling lingo: Anyone ready to weagle?

Anyone seen a weagle out there?

During the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, a friend of mine said she was watching curling and couldn’t understand a bloody thing.

“Oh, I can explain the rules to you,” I offered.

“No,” she said. “It’s the LINGO. What the hell are they talking about? In-off, slash double, turned it in, heater, board weight…WTF??”

True. We curlers do have a language all our own, and after her comments, I started listening more clearly to what Vic, Linda and Russ (as well as other curling commentators on other networks) were saying.

Of course it made perfect sense to me, but I’ve been speaking the language for years. I’m reminded of the looks on the faces of the high-school curlers I coached this year as I explained why trying to “steal one without, take two with” were some of the options they could try. Wha?

Curling lingo has developed over the years. The curlers who joined my parents on the ice at CFB Downsview back in the sixties probably wouldn’t understand much of the commentary either, although they knew the game well enough and would probably figure it out. But for a newcomer to the sport? Watching it on TV must be quite a challenge – as my friend suggested.

It’s not just that the sport has its own terms – every sport has that. But curling language is evolving. “Hurry hard” is the familiar skip’s call for sweeping, but you can thank Russ Howard for that one. I’m not certain, but I seem to recall it was the late Sandra Schmirler who introduced that wonderful description of what a good take-out should do: “Make it go away.” (Open to correction here. Anyone?)

And of course the 2012-2013 season saw the introduction of a new curling term: the Weagle. Or “to weagle” – as in, tick a guard out of the way, but not out of play, a tactic that works wonders to combat the aggressive four-rock free-guard-zone rule.

As a writer, language is my passion. As a curler, the words that describe and drive my game are tools. I love that the toolbox is full of lively, meaningful, creative and innovative language, and I love that the sport is growing and changing.