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Wednesday, April 27, 2022

LOOKING BACK: Returning to the grassroots: confessions of a busy curling writer

I'm waking up this blog! 

I left my job at Curling Canada in 2019, just after my first Young Adult book was published. Since then, my writing life has been all about writing fiction for teens, and my curling life has been about playing at the club, leading Learn To Curls, and watching all those curlers on TV that I used to write about - everything from club bonspiels to national and international events. (Well, and then there was that time spent staying home because there was a global pandemic, of course...) 

In other words, I'm a working author and a curling fan with a bit of inside knowledge. 

But there's some good stuff on this blog from days gone by, so I'll pick and choose a little bit of content to share and, I hope, write some new stuff, too. Lots going on in the curling world these days, and hey, I could talk (and write) curling all day. So, here we go, a look back to April 2013, as my curling season wrapped up. (Note: The links are a little clunky, but they still work!)


April 2013

Because my day job is editing and writing stories for the CCA website, this blog – which I always intended to be my place to write about All Things Curling – has been neglected.

The view from the media bench during
the final of the 2013 Scotties in Kingston.
But the season has pretty well come to an end for me. The events are done, the regular columns I write and edit are done, and I am subsiding into maintenance mode.

It was a terrific season, full of great stories on and off the ice. Here's a sample of the more grassroots-type stories I worked on during the 2012-2013 curling season:

The 13-year-old blogger in Kingston who has become curling’s biggest fan

Some savvy curling club managers who keep things hopping at their clubs – Scott Comfort, in Wadena, Sask. And Bobby Ray in North Bay, Ont.

The growth of wheelchair curling at the first-ever national summit on the sport, and Andy Jones, a curling coach from Alberta who has lots to say about the coaching side of wheelchair curling.

The Minister of State (Sport), the Honourable Bal Gosal took to the ice at the Ottawa Curling Club last Fall with Rachel Homan, Craig Savill and coach Earle Morris to see what curling was all about (and he did great, apparently!).

There were anniversaries at Annandale, and Chatham, and Vancouver.

But even though the ice is out, that doesn’t mean the sport sleeps during the summer. There are summer spiels coming up, and clubs doing renovations, and changes to some of the high-performance teams (here’s a great piece by Bob Weeks on the recent departure of John Morris from the Kevin Martin team.)

Lots of news still coming down the pipe from all over the country and the world. So the focus is now on sharing more stories over the summer. Stories about curling - especially the grassroots!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Apparently the etiquette of curling never gets old

Seventeen years ago, I wrote an essay that was published in The Globe & Mail. It was titled "Curling etiquette offers rules for life", and it got lots of love. Recently, I've been getting tagged on social media by clubs and curlers who have re-discovered (or maybe discovered for the first time?) my little commentary on the way the on-ice culture of curling could make our larger off-ice world a better place.

So, if you're interested in taking a walk down Memory Lane with me, here you go. Please cut me some slack on the how dated it sounds in places: the curling world was a lot different in 2002. We were still getting used to an Olympic presence, we didn't have a thriving Grand Slam, World Curling Tour or "professional" curling circuit. For me,  at that time, my own curling world consisted of my club and the Brier and Scotties broadcasts. Yeah, it was different then.

But I still believe this: curling etiquette really does offer rules for life.

Yellowed with age, and a weird illustration: my essay from 2002

Curling etiquette offers rules for life

I am a curler. Ok, you can stop laughing now.

Yes, I’ve heard all the jokes about fat, out-of-shape old guys. I’ve explained to my fashion-conscious friends that we don’t wear those handknit sweaters anymore (although CBC radio host Bill Richardson recently caused a near-riot on his show when he refused to return one of those classic sweaters, bought in a thrift shop in Saskatchewan, to its original owner). I’ve patiently outlined the strategy of the game, which has more to do with chess than shuffleboard. I’ve tried to convince the cross-training, weight-lifting, aerobics set that 10 ends of sweeping draw shots into the eight-foot around a centre guard most certainly provides a more than adequate workout for the cardiovascular and muscular systems. I’ve dared detractors of the roaring game to get down in the hack and throw a perfect draw to the button – to which most reply, “Why would I want to?”

Yes, I’ve heard it all. But you will never convince me that curling isn’t one of the greatest games on earth, and it’s all because of etiquette.

I took up curling at the old age of 35. My childhood had been spent in curling clubs watching my parents indulge their passion for the sport. Toronto’s CFB Downsview was their home club, and it was a drab, boring place for a little girl to spend countless Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Sometimes I stayed home with my older brothers while my parents went off to bonspiels and competitions. One of my older brothers once wrote a school essay entitled “I Am A Curling Orphan.”

We all hated the game that our parents loved so much. None of us took it up.

But of course things change. My husband and I moved, with our daughter, to a small town in eastern Ontario where my mother was living and where I had some other family connections. Vankleek Hill boasts a population of 1800 and sits on top of a hill surrounded by farmland in all directions. Ottawa is an hour away in one direction, and Montreal is an hour in the other direction. There isn’t much to do in the winter, apart from shoveling vast amounts of snow, and we wanted to find a way to meet and socialize with our new neighbours, so on the advice of my still curling-mad mom (now a spectator rather than a player), we joined the local curling club. It changed my life.

For one thing, I found out I was good at it. After the first awkward games, I started to get the feel for the ice, for throwing a rock with the right weight and the right turn. I discovered that I was a pretty good sweeper too. My mom would come to watch my games and I would see her there, beer and cigarette in hand, behind the glass. She never said it, but the “I told you so” was glowing in an invisible speech bubble right over her head.

Right from the start, my curling colleagues started teaching me about perhaps the most important part of the game: curling etiquette. Shake hands before - and after - the game.

Stand still when the other team is throwing. Admit it if you touch a rock with your broom, even though that rock must be removed from play (often to your own team’s disadvantage). Don’t jump in the air and celebrate when the other team misses a shot. Compliment good shots, no matter which team makes them. Respect your opponent.

Curling in a small town, in a two-sheet club, brings you into contact with all sorts of people. My first skip was a farmer (who missed the first game of the season because he was in Toronto showing cows at the Royal Winter Fair). The highschool principal was a teammate, as were, at various times throughout my years in Vankleek Hill, a nurse, lots of teachers, a labour relations negotiator, the town lawyer, the bank manager, the lady who ran the dress shop on Main Street, various high school students, stay-at-home moms, retired seniors and many farmers, who often arrived late for the first game of the evening because they had to finish milking. Out on the ice, it didn’t matter who you were outside the walls of the club: young or old, male or female, employed or not, English or French. It didn’t even matter if you were a good curler. We played our games, shook hands, and sat down in the lounge while the winners bought the losers a drink – another example of curling etiquette.

Yes, it may look like a funny game, but the lessons learned from curling can take a person a long

Or not. I was helping out for the first time in a Sunday afternoon junior program recently. A young curler was breaking some basic rules and I stopped to correct him, at which point he became rude and aggressive. He was surly to his teammates and to me. I asked one of the organizers how much curling etiquette they had been teaching, and the man shrugged and said not much, since the kids have so much to think about while trying to get that rock down the ice.

I looked at that young boy, maybe 10 or 11 years old, and thought to myself, “Young man, you’re not going to get too far in this game.”

And he won’t get too far in life either, with attitude like that.

Imagine if everyone respected their teammates and opponents in life, shook hands after every confrontation and bought each other a drink. Imagine if we all stood still while others were concentrating on their life’s work, offering encouragement not distraction. Imagine if we celebrated our opponents’, as well as our own, accomplishments.

No, it’s not a perfect world, but it could be. And it is – on a sheet of curling ice.


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.