Pebbles to Boulders: Package of Determination

During the time my wife and I were the Little Rock co-ordinators at the Brant Curling Club, we witnessed many pleasures – one of which was meeting the Elgie Family and young Lesleigh Elgie. Lesleigh was a cute, outgoing little girl with a very pleasant personality. Mom and Dad were not curlers, but took steps to introduce curling to Lesleigh and her older brother Scott. Lesleigh was in a specially designed wheelchair, well suited for her young age. She was born with spina bifida, a condition that left her without the use of her legs. Now picture this. Like most curling clubs built in the 1950s and 1960s, there was no wheelchair access. Just to enter the club, Lesleigh’s family first carried the wheelchair into the club, and then lifted her from the family car, up seven outdoor steps through the main doorway, to the lounge area. Great care was taken by the family to ensure the wheels of the chair were free of dirt, to prevent grit from tracking onto the ice surface. To access the ice surface, Lesleigh was carried again, down four steps to the waiting chair at ice level.

The Elgie Family today (Photo courtesy M. Cooper)

“To see the effort taken each week by this amazing family just to get to the curling club was a fine example of determination,” explains Donna Cooper, Little Rock coordinator. “There were times my husband would lift Lesleigh to and from her chair, but mostly it was Mom, Dad and even young Scott supporting the effort.” At the time, Stick curling was just coming on the scene. Wheelchair curling, as we know it today, had not yet been developed. From the understanding of the day, curlers in wheelchairs threw the rock from the chair, with the chair positioned and anchored at the hack. This was not the way Lesleigh wanted to throw the rock. Other kids threw from the hack; so did she. With extra thick snow pants on (so as not to melt the pebble), Lesleigh would climb out of the chair, perch herself at the hack on the ice surface, raise her bottom for leverage, balance herself with the left hand and throw the rock with her right. With weeks of practice and much determination, she became very good at tossing the rock down the sheet. “I would say what drove me to throw the rock from the hack like other kids is that I wanted to be like the other kids. I’m one that looks for ways of making alternations that would give me that opportunity,” recalls Lesleigh. “And really, my way of delivering a rock is pretty much exactly the same as any other curler, but my slide is different. I know where there is a will, there is a way!”

Delivery technique (Photo courtesy M. Cooper)

In time, wheelchair curling developed as we know it today. Lesleigh tried throwing with the stick, but just did not take to it. In her eyes, her way was more inclusive, allowing her to curl like the other young curlers. When it came to brushing, again she wanted to support her team and not just be the holder of the broom in the house. With assistance from her family, who would take turns, Lesleigh would be pushed in her chair, up and down the ice surface alongside running rocks so that she could brush. This was quite a sight. For the chair pusher it was a great work-out because they needed to be light on their feet, yet fast enough to keep up with rocks moving quickly down the ice.

Some of the high school team at the athletic banquet (Photo courtesy M. Cooper)

Lesleigh’s curling has gone beyond club recreational play. In her graduating year, while playing third stone, her Assumption College High School girls curling team won the Brant County High School Championships. This qualified the team for the Central Western Ontario Secondary Schools Association regional playdowns leading to the provincials. That year, the regionals were being hosted at home, in Brantford. What a thrill to have hometown fans for support! However, the team did have to face disappointment. For the event, certain rulings were made that prevented Lesleigh from being pushed down the ice for brushing. The team played Randy Ferbey style, with Lesleigh holding the broom and throwing third rocks. “After the two morning games, the coaches conducted a meeting, voting to let my brother push me for the final game. All but one coach voted in favour,’ reflects Lesleigh. “By then, our ‘game’ was off and we put forward a good effort to tie our last game.” Currently Lesleigh is in fourth year of Contemporary Studies with Children’s Education Development at Wilfred Laurier University in Brantford. “My goal is to become a primary school teacher.” Because school takes so much time, curling on a regular basis is not possible right now, but she plans to enter an adult league in the future. There is no doubt in my mind that our now grown-up little determined curler will achieve any goal she puts her mind to!