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MQFT with Shannon Birchard

This week, John sits down with Shannon Birchard, the Scotties and World Champion and two-time Canadian Junior finalist from Winnipeg, Man. Shannon is currently playing on the “all skips” foursome of Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Briane Meilleur, and herself, and they’ve had a ton of success on the World Curling Tour thus far. They’ll be competing in the Canada Cup in early December in Estevan, Sask.

Shannon Birchard in action at the 2018 Ford World Women’s Curling Championship in North Bay, Ont. (Curling Canada/Michael Burns photo)

Welcome to Magical Question Fun Time, the Curling Canada feature in which comedian John Cullen sits down with your favourite curlers for interviews like you have never seen. Each interview will feature eight questions: five standard questions for each curler, two questions specific to the featured curler, and one question provided by the previous curler interviewed.

1. What’s the nicest shot you’ve ever been a part of?

Shannon Birchard: It’s funny because I have a hard time thinking of my own great shots, I only think of my misses.

John Cullen: Wait, what? That seems like you’re being very hard on yourself.

SB: Well, I don’t think my misses keep me up at night, but certain games, certain situations, you know. You think of what could have been. Truthfully, I just get more pumped up for my teammates making shots than myself. I try and be as even-keel as I can. So, I have two shots.

JC: That you didn’t throw. [laughs]

SB: Yes. [laughs] The first was last year, I was playing mixed doubles in Seattle with Jason Gunnlaugson, and in the final he made a quad which basically won us the game.

JC: Oh my, I remember seeing that shot. It was unbelievable.

Shannon Birchard and Jason Gunnlaugson compete at the 2018 Canad Inns Mixed Doubles Curling Trials in Portage la Prairie, Man. (Curling Canada/Michael Burns photo)

SB: Yeah, and I did nothing. [laughs] Held the broom and watched it happen. And this year, Kerri made a great shot in the StuSells in Oakville. We were playing Stern—who just won the Tier 2 Slam, actually—and we were down 6-1 after three ends. Kerri made this runback double from a crazy angle on a corner guard, into the side of the eight-foot, to come off of a rock in the four-foot for 3. And now that I think about it, I didn’t do anything on that one either. She just threw it and we didn’t put a lick on it all the way down. [laughs]

JC: My favourite place to be. [laughs]

2. If there was an action figure made of you, what non-curling accessory would it come with?

SB: I’m gonna have to go with my dog. It can be a separate little action figure, and she’d be so cute. My dog is like my Yoda, she has tons of personality and I talk to her all the time. She helps me out a lot.

JC: Like your Yoda?

SB: Well yeah, she’s super old. She’s 16 years old. And has one eye. She’s lumpy and bumpy and my favourite puppy. And you know what, she can surprise you with how much energy she has.

JC: I was surprised you didn’t choose the glasses. I saw you practice with those glasses on in Thunder Bay, and I’ve long been a proponent of curlers having cool glasses. They’re a kind of vintage, hipster frame. I think you should give people buying your action figure the option.

SB: It’s funny you mention that. I actually wear those glasses pretty much all day, every day. But curling, I switch it up to contacts.

Shannon’s companion action figure, her dog. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Birchard)

3. If you were forced to rob a bank, which two curlers—you can’t choose more than one teammate—would you choose to be on your squad, and what role would you play?

SB: I’m actually not going to choose any of my teammates—I’ve thought about this. It’s nothing against them, I just think they’re all too nice. My first, number one choice is Jennifer Jones, and for two reasons.

First, she has the most celebrity status of any curler and always draws a crowd, so she would be a great distraction.

And second, she has super-sonic hearing. Probably a lot of people don’t know that about her, but her ears are crazy. Don’t whisper around her, she will hear it.

JC: [laughs] I’m not even sure how you learn that, and maybe I don’t want to know. Makes me wonder how Brent might have found out. [laughs]

SB: [laughs] I’ve just been around her when people are talking a distance away, and she can hear them. It’s unreal. And then we’ll need some muscle, so I’ll take Ben Hebert. He can carry a lot of cash with him, and can help if we need to get a little vicious.

JC: And your role?

SB: I want to be the codebreaker, something like that.

JC: What! You’re the first person to say that and I LOVE it.

SB: Yeah, I’m actually a secret old lady. I love crosswords and other word puzzle things and games. We have a cottage here, and there’s no TV, so I love to just disconnect and do a bunch of puzzles and stuff. So the idea I’d get to try and crack a vault? Oh yeah. Love it.

“Jennifer Jones – she has super-sonic hearing. Probably a lot of people don’t know that about her, but her ears are crazy. Don’t whisper around her, she will hear it.” (Curling Canada/Andrew Klaver photo)

4. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

SB: It lasted for two weeks, a couple years ago. I was working as a sales lead generator for a countertop company in Winnipeg.

JC: I just fell asleep hearing you describe that. [laughs] It reminds of the Alec Baldwin scene in GlenGarry Glen Ross, where he withholds leads from the sales staff. I just imagine you walking in to the office like, “You want these leads? You wouldn’t know what to do with them.”

SB: Yeah, I don’t know what that is. [laughs]

JC: I know, I know, you’re young, we get it. [laughs]

SB: But yeah, the job was just me set up at a Costco exit and trying to attract people to my booth to get their name and phone number. I would say hi to literally THOUSANDS of people, all avoiding eye contact with me and it was just horrible. I’m sure some people like that, being super social and all that, but that’s not me. Or at least not for eight hours in a row. [laughs]

5. What’s a stupid thing you incorrectly believed was true for a long time?

SB: I used to think at intersections that there were people underground who operated the traffic lights.

JC: [laughs] Oh my gosh, me too! I don’t think I thought they were underground though. Where did you get that idea from?

SB: I honestly have no idea. I told my parents I was doing this interview, and told them this, and they laughed in my face. They were like, “Wow, really Shannon?” [laughs]

JC: Did you ask them about it when you were younger? How did you figure it out?

SB: Well, I probably just got old enough where I started to use the Internet, and I looked it up and figured out I was an idiot. It would be pretty difficult to build a massive network of tunnels underneath the roads just to operate all the traffic lights.

6. Alright, so on to the Shannon Birchard-specific questions, and I’m going to ask you the same thing I asked Taylor McDonald a few years ago, about the “Women of Curling” calendar. What was the weirdest part about doing it?

SB: Well, I think it ended up being a lot of fun, but definitely before the shoot I had a few worries. I wasn’t super worried about doing the actual shoot. I mean, I post pictures in my bathing suit on Instagram all the time. But I knew that I wanted to do something maybe a bit racier, and I was nervous that people might think differently of me for doing it. But I decided to own it.

JC: And own it you did! It looks great.

Women of Curling Calendar 2019

SB: Thanks! I just think there’s a bit of a double standard there for the women who do the calendar vs. the men. It seems to me like the men have a bit more freedom to have fun with it. A lot of them do some more risqué stuff as far as the amount of clothing they have on—so I wanted to push the envelope for sure.

JC: So it doesn’t sound like there were too many weird moments.

SB: Not really. The photo shoot we did on a rooftop pool in Winnipeg, my best friend was there, it was all good. The weirdest part has probably been all the middle-aged men who are now paying attention to me because of the photo. [laughs] And I’m so bad at having those interactions with people at events. Some girls are so great at selling the calendar, writing personalized messages. I always struggle to write something cute, so I usually just write, “Don’t ever change.” [laughs] But overall, it’s been fun.

7. Now I’ve heard that if I am to ever have a party with a dance floor—it’s a must that I invite your parents. How true is that statement?

SB: [laughs] Well, it’s mainly my dad who really gets the dance floor going, my mom just goes along with it. He has zero formal dance training, but he thinks he’s pretty amazing. He goes after it. [laughs]

JC: What kind of moves are we talking here? I’ve heard from several sources he’s great out there.

SB: Well, he likes to do air guitar, that’s a big one. And some Saturday Night Fever stuff too. Actually, here’s a funny story: at his old workplace, when he turned 40, they plastered posters ALL over the office of a Photoshop of his face on John Travolta’s body from Saturday Night Fever. And he hates his birthday, so that made it even funnier. A perfect descriptor of what he’s like on the dance floor.

JC: How often does he bring this out? Do your parents go out dancing?

SB: No, they don’t seek it. He likes the Patches, they’re a good place for him. Brier, Scotties, Worlds, you name it. And the Manitoba Curling Association will have a few parties every year with a dance floor and he’ll get out there. He just doesn’t care about what people think about him, and I love him for that.

8. Now the final question comes in from Kirk Muyres, and I think he took it a bit easy on you. But it’s a curious thing, so I’m into it. He asks how you got your release? There’s a good video of it here, but you hold the rock at 12 and then put the turn on before you let it go.

SB: I started curling with a regular release at 10 and 2 like everyone else, but then when I was 12 or 13, Lino Di Iorio came to Winnipeg to set up some video for practice. At the time, he was working with European teams, and teaching them this type of release. The theory is you’re eliminating elbow movement, you’re making your release a lot more similar. In the hack, you start your rock in the same position all the time, and it helps make your deliveries more similar too. It created more consistency, and it worked out well for me, and I saw no need to change back.

JC: Has anyone ever tried to change it? Any coaches been like “no, that’s wrong”?

SB: No one has really tried to change it, no. I think that every time I join a new team, the skip is maybe a little wary that it’s going to be tough to read, but I think it’s pretty easy because I’ve been doing it so long and I’m so consistent with it. So most people just think if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Plus, you have to remember, John, I’m from Manitoba. Everyone here throws a little bit strange. [laughs]

JC: [laughs] A fantastic point. Now, if I could get a question for my next guest, and it’s a big moment, because it’ll be the first appearance of an international guest: it’s Matt Hamilton!

SB: Okay, I’m excited for that one. Here’s my question: what made you decide on the mustache as your signature look, and what kind of products do you use to keep it fresh?

JC: I know a lot of people will want to know that! Thanks Shannon, and best of luck with the rest of your season!

As always, you can follow John on Twitter at @cullenthecurler, and his curling podcast at @stonestrawpod. You can follow Shannon at @ShannonBirchard.

Shannon Birchard in action at the 2017 Home Hardware Road to the Roar Pre-Trials in Summerside, P.E.I. (Curling Canada/Michael Burns photo)