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A Curling We Will Go – Trying an Olympic Sport

As I watched my daughter, Laurie, hurl a 42-pound stone down the ice and her teammates run after it sweeping brooms, I found myself intrigued by a sport I knew nothing about—curling. When Laurie had first called and asked if I would like to watch her play, I thought, “where in the world could someone curl around here?” It turns out, close by at The Nutmeg Curling Club in Bridgeport, next to Wonderland of Ice.

Inspired by watching the 2018 U.S. men’s curling team win an Olympic gold medal for the first time, Laurie had wanted to give the “it doesn’t look that hard” sport a try. A few months later, she got her chance at a Nutmeg Club open house event. All the equipment was provided—brooms, stones, shoe grippers, and ice time with certified instructors. Laurie was so enamored of the experience, she joined the beginner Greenhorn League, becoming one of 20,000 curlers in the U.S. There are 750,000 curlers in Canada and 1.5 million curlers worldwide.

When we arrived on the Greenhorn’s first day, I settled into the clubhouse and listened to an instructor’s talk. He explained that curling consists of two teams of four players who compete by throwing stones or “rocks” down the ice toward the center of three concentric rings. The players sweep the ice to control the “curl” which is the speed and direction. The object of the game is for a team’s rocks to be the closet to the center.

The sport of curling, like golf, started centuries ago in Scotland and are both games of precision. He also emphasized the positive atmosphere within curling; there is no trash talking and curlers often compliment an opponent’s good shots. Curlers are a fun-loving group and when the curling season (October through March) is over there are festive parties.

When it was time for the Greenhorns to curl, I sat with a cup of tea and pressed my nose to the glass to watch them learning how to kneel down to throw the rock. I saw several of the curlers lose their balance and fall. Happily, no injuries were incurred as they were low to the ice.

I talked to the couple next to me who said they had supported their daughter’s interests in ballet, swimming, cheerleading, and now curling. If your children are now grown and you are forlorn because you think you’ve seen the last of soccer matches, maybe someday you can watch them curl. Or perhaps they will come watch you curl, as the members’ ages range from middle school to early 80s. Longtime member, Kathy Morley, told me, “being 50-something and still sliding down the ice like I did in my 20s keeps me feeling young!”

Last year a team from Nutmeg won the U.S. Senior Women’s Bonspiel tournament in Phoenix. Nutmeg also has active wheelchair members. In fact, member, Steve Emt, was a lead player for the 2018 USA Paralympic team. They are also home to Yale University’s medal winning team.

Trying curling

Laurie Newkirk and her husband Vincent Legg at a Nutmeg Open House.

When the energized Greenhorns emerged back into the clubhouse, I was curious about their experience. Laurie explained that, despite being heavy, the “rock” is not hard to throw; it glides easily from your hand. It’s balancing in the throwing position that’s challenging and the sweeping that’s fatiguing. Despite being called brooms, you’re not really sweeping to clean the ice but to create heat to make the ice slick. You have to press down forcefully and sweep as fast as you can. (It turns out it’s indeed harder than it looks.)

“Curling gives the opportunity to compete in a sport that requires a level of technical skill, teamwork, athletic ability, and mental focus in a very friendly and welcoming environment,” explains Craig Doucette, president of Nutmeg. Director Eric Sebastian adds, “the organization is totally run by volunteers. The people at the club really do become your family.”

In fact, Anita Bartlett White, widow of a Nutmeg founder, who curled well into her 90s felt so connected to the group she left her entire estate to the club. As we left the rink, I understood how someone could become so attached, as I was already looking forward to next time.

Nutmeg Curling Club offers Open House instructional sessions taught by certified instructors for $40. All ages are welcome and equipment is provided but reservations are needed. 123 Glenwood Ave, Bridgeport, 203-615-0077 nutmegcurling.com

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