2013 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings – Canadian Olympic Curling Trials
Presented by Monsanto

Hard work crucial for curlers

As some of you know if you follow me on twitter (@nolancurling34) or are fans of Team Koe I was once a baseball player of some very minor acclaim.

Nolan Thiessen has his eyes focused on the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Canadian Curling Trials this December in Winnipeg. (Photo, CCA/Michael Burns Jr.)

In Grade 12 I was recruited to attend Claiborne Christian School in West Monroe, La., I spent a year chasing the dream at Vernon College in Vernon, Tex., and started two games for Team Manitoba in the 2001 Canada Summer Games as a pitcher.

That is the extent of my baseball career — a pretty good pitcher with a mid-80’s fastball, an above average changeup and a claim to fame of losing the championship game to go to the Junior College World Series to John Lackey (now of the Boston Red Sox and holder of an $86-million contract, a shade more than curlers make).

Nolan Thiessen shows his pitching form during his Grade 12 season. (Photo, courtesy Nolan Thiessen)

There are days during the short summers here in Canada where I sit back and watch a baseball game on TV and I think back to my baseball career. Something has always eaten at me about those days chasing the baseball dream. I ask myself: “Did I work hard enough at baseball?”

After I TOLD myself in the late ’90s that my baseball career was never going to reach the pinnacle of the sport, I quickly moved on to my second love, curling. That was my first mistake: mentally deciding that I was not good enough to make it without exhausting every avenue of improvement I had at my disposal. I took the easy way out to go about life the easy way instead of working my butt off and putting in the hard work for my dream.

During my time in Texas I was happy to get up and workout with my team at 6 a.m. during scheduled training times, but never on my own to try to improve more. I was happy to do enough during bullpen sessions that coaches didn’t say too much to me and I could fly under the radar. I was happy to finish my workout and come back to the dorm and eat garbage food that had minimal nourishment because it was what I liked to eat, not what was necessary for an athlete to properly prepare and compete.

Does that paragraph look like the actions of someone trying to get the most out of their natural ability and advance as far as they can in the game of baseball? I have always wondered if I worked harder, asked my coaches for more advice, tried new pitches that may fail but may improve my game — just tried to be more professional at my craft — if I could have made it to the professional ranks or maybe even to the majors. The answer is I probably wouldn’t have … but how do I know for sure?

That is never a question I want to one day ask of myself about curling and my pursuit of the Olympics. I don’t want to say, “I wish I worked out a little harder; I wish I asked a few more questions, I wish I would have just cleaned up my diet, I wish I did more analysis of my game and my teams game … maybe we would have won and went to the Olympics.”

Our game has changed so much in the past 25 years. I remember reading stories before the 1987 Curling Trials where Eddie Werenich and Paul Savage were put through workouts and everyone laughed and wondered aloud, “Why are they doing that? Curlers don’t need to WORK OUT!” The stigma is still out there; at the Olympic Excellence Series event in May, many of the other athletes said to me, “You don’t look like a curler at all!” Fitness is a must for all players in our game today and you have to look no further than the figures of the players who will show up in Winnipeg in December — not many love handles!

I pride myself on working hard at my fitness and my game. When I first started curling with Kevin Koe and Carter Rycroft in 2006, I tipped the scale at a smooth 252 pounds with 22 per cent body-fat ratio. I am now 210 pounds with a body-fat percentage in the single digits. I definitely did not have a quick fix to lose all the weight; it took a lot of sweat, hard work and the desire to make the lifestyle changes to get there.

A young Nolan Thiessen during a baseball team celebration. (Photo, courtesy Nolan Thiessen)

The thing that I realized this spring after our crushing defeat in the Alberta provincial final is that it was time to take my training and preparation the next level. In order to win the Roar of the Rings and then represent Canada at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, it is going to take much more than just good fitness. Everyone in our sport hits the gym these days and has a fitness regime; everyone in our sport is realizing there has to be something else that will determine who wins in December.

There are so many more facets to the game that need attention this summer in order to be the best prepared that we can be in December in Winnipeg. Curlers are taking the next step and are looking into nutrition, sleep patterns, strategy analysis, mental training and many many other areas that can possibly make a difference and to prepare themselves for this opportunity to go to the Olympics.

There’s a famous quote by Muhammad Ali: “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ ”

The best part of all the hard work this year is that no matter what happens in Winnipeg, no matter whether we win the Trials, lose the final or go 1-6 — unlike my baseball career, I will know the answer when I ask myself afterwards: “Did I work hard enough?”