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Around the House: Welcome to Planet Curling!

Remember when you were new to curling?  You may have felt yourself stepping into a world that was at the same time welcoming and overwhelming. Welcoming, because you quickly learned that curlers are the most encouraging, social and friendly sportspeople on the planet. Overwhelming, because curlers are – let’s be honest here – passionate about their sport and their curling communities. Curlers love the game and everything in its unique universe.

(Photo: CCA/Brennan Schnell)

An apt metaphor, actually, because when you’re a new curler, walking into the club for the first few visits can be a lot like launching yourself into deep space and landing on a distant planet populated with aliens. What language are they speaking? What are they doing with those brooms? What am I supposed to be doing? And perhaps the toughest question – when your skip is hollering at you to “Hurry!” – are these friendly aliens?

My first curling club is a distant memory: CFB Downsview, in a western suburb of Toronto. My dad was an employee of DeHavilland Aircraft, just down the road, so membership was part of the package. My mom joined too, and many of the members were active and retired Air Force men and women. Lots of curling, lots of partying, lots of action – and often my brother and I were dragged along because there was no babysitter at home to look after us. I don’t remember much about the club itself, but I do remember the dread and boredom of another long Saturday at the club while my parents competed in some event.

Looking back, I imagine they dreaded taking us along just as much as we dreaded being there. On-site daycare wasn’t quite as popular in those days as it is now, and my poor mother was probably torn between wanting some kid-free curling time and wanting to make sure we were looked after.

We weren’t the only kids there. It was the norm for parents to bring their kids to the club, so we zoomed around, mostly unsupervised, stopping now and then to take in the action on the ice. When I read Hurry Hard!, Russ Howard’s account of his early curling days in Midland, Ontario, I was amused to see that he and his brother, Glenn, had much the same experience while their parents played. That’s probably how many kids got started in the game. Not me, though. Those long hours of abandonment only made me want to run, screaming, from this boring game of curling.

But kids grow up and times change. When I finally took the plunge, it was at a two-sheeter in a small Ottawa Valley town called Vankleek Hill. After a couple of casual learn-to-curl sessions with one of the skips, I was put on a team for the opening draw and pushed out on to the ice.

Yikes! The rock was so heavy, and those shoes so slippery, that I was sure I was going to disgrace myself. But nobody laughed, nobody complained about my poor form.  In fact, one of my teammates suggested I try a no-lift delivery and gave me a demonstration. (And to this day I deliver the same way he did: no lift, broom right on the ice. Works like a charm. Thanks, Donny!) Afterwards the other lead bought me a drink (and I confess, I didn’t know that was the expected form; I thought she was just being nice to the newcomer). My teammates praised my draw weight and my opponents told me how well I did for a first-time curler. I can’t remember much about how I played (probably terribly) but I do remember how much fun I had, how nice everyone was.

And I also remember my skip telling me that when you win, it’s a team effort; when you lose, it’s the skip’s fault. I didn’t believe it then and I still don’t, but I appreciated being part of the laughing group of curlers around the table enjoying that post-game camaraderie and laughter.

And I still do. We were all new curlers once, and we all have our stories of how we got started. One thing for sure, we made a great – if life-changing – decision when we took off in that rocket and landed safely on Planet Curling.

This week’s burning question: What do you remember about your first curling club? Let me know at jrmills@rogers.com