Chapter Twenty-Two – Wouldn’t It Be Ice If We Were Older

 

Curling is a sport of honor, tradition, and respect, the depth of which I had only seen in sumo wrestling. You are about as likely to see a taunt during a match as you are to see somebody using an AutoLoc dual-exhaust flamethrower as a broom. In the traditional beginning to a championship match, both teams are “piped on” to the ice by an actual live piper who typically plays “Scotland the Brave.” The teams then face each other and offer a toast of Drambuie (or ginger ale, where appropriate) and a simple but heartfelt, “Good curling.” And when it’s all over, the winning team buys a celebratory round of drinks for all concerned. Every time. No questions asked.

“So, do you want to give it a try?”

The question came from Jamie Hutchinson, a Broomstones member who had been one of those patiently fielding my questions. The second semifinal match of the Senior Nationals had just concluded, and there would be a break of some length before the championship match began. And the ice was just sitting there. I think that Jamie serves on the club’s New Membership Committee—and if she doesn’t, she should. For she actually made sliding around on ice in temperatures significantly below those found on the coldest of SoCal days sound…well, almost inviting.

Initially I tried faking an old war injury. But that required faking participation in an old war, and she wasn’t buying it. She was a skilled curling pusher—“Here, Tim, the first one’s free. I think you’ll like it.” And I had to admit that the washed-up jock in me was curious to see if I could perform the essentials of this complex new sport that I was growing fond of.

So I signed a waiver form (which actually contained the word “death” in it—and not merely in a “freezing to death” context), and minutes later I made my debut on the ice. Just to seal  the deal, Jamie brought in the Big Gun to help with my tutorial: Greg Eisenhauer, who I understood to be a curling club’s equivalent of a golf course’s head pro and head greenskeeper all rolled into one.

The key thing that I learned right away about curling is that it requires balance. A lot of balance. You’re propelling yourself forward on a sheet of ice while trying to maneuver a rock that’s 40 pounds and a foot and half wide. There’s a lot to think about. Like…Did the waiver that I just signed really contain the word death? for example. But not to worry. Between Jamie and Greg, I received very specific instructions, and when my big moment came, I was actually able to execute the push and glide without wiping out. Of course I forgot to actually throw the stone. Is the word “mulligan” somewhere in the curling lexicon?

“That was great!” Jamie and Greg lied in unison.

On the second and third tries I was able to actually thrust the stone in the general direction of the house, but the form I displayed in my first attempt had…moderated, shall we say. In other words, I barely avoided doing a full turtle. But in subsequent throws, as I flailed around the ice in full Zamboni mode, the only thing I was thinking about was that I was having fun! Seriously. I was actually laughing, even on the occasion on which my knee hit the ice with a resounding crack.

At one point in the day, somebody had shared with me that curling was “easy to learn but hard to master.” Amen. My lesson taught me that in addition to balance and decent hand eye coordination, flexible hips, glutes, and hamstrings are strongly recommended if one wants to maximize their skill level and enjoyment of the sport. I’m a little short on the “flexibility” thing—always have been. I was the only kid in my kindergarten class who couldn’t successfully pull off the cross-legged style of floor sitting that was massively in vogue during story time.

There must be a lot of limber hips and legs out there, though, because in 2010 more than 40 new curling clubs were formed across the country. Most don’t have the luxury of a curling-specific facility like Broomstones and thus have to make some accommodations to curl on a regulation hockey rink. The point is, however, that the sport is spreading inexorably—and the added visibility that a Winter Olympics provides every fourth year spikes the growth chart.

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