Heroes on Ice

Every child has a hero and many adults do too. Webster’s Dictionary defines hero as “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities”. Many have earned the label “hero” because of success in sports or other significant accomplishments in life that have required determination and courage. In November 2006, I was in Edmonton working on the 2007 Ford World Men’s Curling Championship, when former football great Jackie Parker passed away.  Until his death, I didn’t realize what an impression this man and his teammates had had on me. I was a youngster growing up in Edmonton when Parker was dazzling the football world with his magical talents on the gridiron, leading the Edmonton Eskimos to three consecutive Grey Cup titles in the mid-1950’s.  Parker was one of my heroes and one of the main reasons I pursued the game of football. I was fortunate enough to play on a junior team, the Edmonton Huskies, which went on to win three Canadian titles in a row.  It’s possible that those titles were in part a result of my teammates and me being influenced by Parker, who proved time and time again that if you had enough heart, you could win against all odds. This also made me think of curling.  Who, I asked myself, were my heroes when I was learning how to throw my first stones? I was lucky to have witnessed Matt Baldwin win his first of three Briers in 1954 at the old Edmonton Gardens.  I was very young, but Baldwin’s slide and his charismatic style provided me with an instant attraction to the sport. As a teenager, the thrill of watching Hector Gervais win the 1961 Brier in Calgary pushed me harder to reach Edmonton’s competitive circuit. In the years that followed, I played against Baldwin on many occasions and with Gervais in the 1974 Brier; it was a childhood dream come true. There’s no question that when a child is influenced by a successful, high-profile athlete, the impression can be everlasting and help inspire that young person to participate in that sport. Recently, a number of curlers have become heroes for youngsters across Canada. The late Sandra Schmirler became a hero in the 1990’s, when she won three world titles and Olympic gold.  She was an outstanding athlete and a great ambassador of the game, inspiring countless young females of the day. More recently, Dave Nedohin of Edmonton, capturing three world titles – in 2002, ’03 and ’05 – elevated this talented shot-maker to hero status in the hearts of young curlers across Canada. But probably no curler has made a greater impression on Canadian youth than Brad Gushue did when he won Canada’s first-ever Olympic gold medal for men’s curling in Italy in 2006. In Gushue’s native St. John’s, Newfoundland, the entire school system was given a holiday on the day he and his mates challenged for the gold medal.  For every one of the youngsters who took part in that February break, Gushue will be remembered forever.  Never mind that Gushue has the natural attributes of being young and athletic.  He’s also one of the most accomodating curlers in history, both for the media and the public.  He is perfect hero material for Canada’s youth. And while I’m sure many of the young players on the ice will think of their own curling heroes, they should also remember that how they play the games and how they conduct themselves will have a major impression on potential young curlers. They, too, might become someone’s hero.