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Youth Olympic Dreams: The journey begins!

When I was younger, my mom decided to sign me up for a March Break curling camp. Kids went for about two hours a day for one week to learn the basics of curling. Then, in 2001, I watched PEI’s Suzanne Gaudet win the Junior Worlds as Team Canada, and I told my mom that I wanted to do that someday. She signed me up for my first full winter of curling, and that’s where my Youth Olympics journey began.

Emily Gray

Emily Gray

My name is Emily Gray. I’m 17 years old and have just completed grade 11 at Westisle Composite High School in Elmsdale, Prince Edward Island. I’ve been curling out of the Maple Leaf Curling Club in O’Leary, my home, for 11 years, but I didn’t compete on a team until I was about ten years old. I was a skip then and we weren’t all that competitive. We did compete in two 12 & Under Provincials, but other than the odd club spiel, we didn’t play all that much. In 2006, I was asked by (coach) Glen MacLean to join his daughter’s team. I saw an opportunity, and played on two teams that year, finally joining Amanda’s team permanently as the second. We’ve curled together ever since.

We soon set our sights on the Canada Games and despite a few bumps along the way, we made it. Amanda (skip), Kassinda Bulger (third) and I picked up our lead, Aleya Quilty, just one year before the trials were to be held, and that sealed the deal. We had a chance, and we were determined to take advantage of it.

The PEI provincial trials were in December of 2009, and we were on fire. With only one loss coming out of the round robin, we were put straight through to the final, facing our long-time rivals. It was now or never. We came out strong and ran them out of rocks in the 8th end with a 6-3 victory. We had done it! We were Team Prince Edward Island and we were going to the 2011 Canada Winter Games.

We trained hard the following year and then boarded a bus destined for the Games in Halifax in February 2011.  We had a lot of fun that week. When people asked “Are you nervous playing against teams from Alberta and Ontario?” we replied “No, we just danced with Alberta during our warm-up, they’re pretty cool!” In fact, all of the teams were a lot alike. We all knew that we were there to win, and we would dominate each other if we had the chance, but we all accepted that fact subconsciously and continued to have fun with each other.

The warm-ups were the most fun. We were allowed to be upstairs in the VIP lounge for our warm-ups, and every team had their own music going. We all taught each other a certain dance to a song, or a new move to use in our warm-ups. While we mingled together upstairs, we became the best of friends.

It finally came down to the gold medal game between Alberta and British Columbia. We had become really close with the Alberta team throughout the week. Since BC wasn’t in our pool, we hadn’t had a chance to hang out with them, so we sat in the stands wearing Alberta jackets and scarves, with blue foam fingers and clappers. Little did I know then that I was cheering against my future teammate, BC skip Corryn Brown, whose team won gold that day.

About a month after the games, there were four phone calls being made. Four lucky curlers would be chosen to represent Canada in the Youth Olympics. I had applied, but since I’m from a very small community in PEI, I didn’t think I would have a chance to be chosen. On the way home from my rugby game one night, my best friend and I picked up my mom. She casually asked “Did you hear anything about the Olympics?” and I replied simply, saying “No, I doubt I will.”

When I got home, my little brother told me that someone had contacted me about curling. There were still a few spiels coming up, and my team was done for the year, so I thought it might be someone looking for a player for the weekend.  Then he continued, saying the caller’s name was Greg and he was from Ottawa. My heart dropped. Mom told me not to get excited, you don’t know for sure, but I quickly checked my email and read her a message that said, in bold, “The four successful applicants will be contacted personally by myself (Greg Stremlaw, CEO of the Canadian Curling Association) on Tuesday, March 15th, between 7 and 10pm”. Waiting for that phone call was the longest hour of my life.

As soon as the phone rang, I knew it was for me. I kept my cool on the phone but did not hold back my excitement. Once I hung up the phone, I simply curled up in a ball on the floor and cried. Even now thinking of it my eyes are getting watery. I had done it. My life-long dream was coming true. I was a part of Team Canada.

In April, I travelled with my three new teammates to Regina for the 2011 Ford World Men’s Curling Championship. We all knew of each other, but had never really met. Corryn and I had been in different pools at the Canada Games, and the boys had competed on different weeks. In the final, I had even cheered against BC, not knowing that Corryn and I would be teammates in a mere month.

In Regina we had a chance to take in some games and practices. We were announced during the semi-final game between Canada and Norway and were given our Team Canada jackets, which made everything real. We met so many people that weekend, it was absolutely overwhelming.

Canada's Youth Olympians

Canada's Youth Olympians - Helen Radford (Coach), Thomas Scoffin, Derek Oryniak, Corryn Brown, Emily Gray

Now, let me introduce my team. My teammates are Corryn Brown, Thomas Scoffin, and Derek Oryniak, and our coach is Helen Radford. To say that the CCA couldn’t have picked four better people is an understatement. We all click so well. Corryn and Thomas, third and skip, play the same game and same style. Derek and I, second and lead, are both the ‘we’re gonna sweep this rock until it stops dead in its tracks, and we’re gonna give it 110% the whole darn way!’ types. We both go out for every sport we can get ourselves into, whereas Corryn and Thomas have settled themselves into curling and soccer. There are no conflicts of any kind, and we all even have a small obsession with Eminem, so it’s not hard to find music that we all like!

Derek Oryniak, second, is 16 and from Winnipeg, Manitoba. He has been curling for 12 years. He finished with a bronze medal at the Canada Games and also has earned the right to represent Manitoba at the Optimists next year. Derek’s team had an awesome finish of 4th in his Junior Provincials this past year, and it would not be a surprise if they came out on top this season.

Corryn Brown, third, is our Canada Games gold medalist from Kamloops, British Columbia. She skipped her team to a 3-1 victory over Alberta in the final, has been to two Optimists, won two High School Championships, won a Juvenile Provincial Championship and was runner-up in her Junior Provincials. She has been curling for 11 years, and is 15 years old.

Our skip, Thomas Scoffin, is from Whitehorse, Yukon, and had an unfortunate finish of 12th at the games. But that didn’t stop him from coming out in the middle of the pack at the 2011 Junior Nationals with his fifth appearance, at only 17. Thomas also takes with him the experience from the previous Canada Winter Games which were held in his hometown.

Last, but definitely not least, is our coach Helen Radford. Helen is from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and gave up her own competitive curling career to coach full time. Even though coaching an Olympic team is something new to her, she brings with her the experience of curling since she was 15. There is no doubt in our minds that Helen will coach us to gold!

Since April, we have attended a high intensive camp, La Releve, in Edmonton, and received our summer work-out schedule. We will be together again in August to participate in the Whitecap Curling Academy week-long camp being held in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

It is still unbelievable to think how far a person can go at such a young age. Even a little thing like shopping for a Father’s Day card reminds me of what I have accomplished so far.  I picked one up that said “Thanks for trying but I’ll never make it to the big leagues”, and then my mom reminded me that yes, I really am in the big leagues. This is only the beginning of my Youth Olympic experience, but so far it has been absolutely amazing!