Mesmerized by the athletic prowess and determination of this year’s winter Olympians, I wonder what it would take to compete on the world stage myself. And after analyzing the ages and physiques of those Olympians, I realize that my best (long) shot at making an Olympic team lies within the sport of curling. Nevermind that I’m completely unfamiliar with the rules of the game and rather clumsy on ice — I leap at the chance to pursue this fantasy when I hear that the DFW Curling Club is hosting a series of Learn-to-Curl sessions.
Held at the Farmers Branch Star Center — where the DFW Curling Club regularly meets for league play — the Learn-to-Curl sessions fill newbies like me in on the history of the game and provide instructional on-ice time as well. When I arrive, the first order of business is a safety talk (prudent when hurling 42 pound stones around an ice rink).
Curling instructors then fill rookies in on the origins of the sport; it turns out that Medieval Scots first decided to slide stones around on frozen lochs and marshes. The game made its way to North America via 18th century Scottish immigrants, and gained a following in Canada and the northern U.S. by the mid-1800s. Today, curling is most popular in Canada, with a growing U.S. following.
Many of my fellow Learn-to-Curl participants became interested in the sport after watching Olympic curling matches; the sport has been part of the Winter Olympics since 1998. One member of our group, Madelaine Pfau, hosted a curling-watching party last week. On a lark, she invited the president of the DFW Curling Club to come to the party and educate her friends on curling. He obliged and now she and her friends are hooked.
As our group of more than 100 fledgling curlers makes our way onto the pebbled ice, I notice the diverse population this sport attracts — our Learn-to-Curl group consists of enthusiasts ranging in age from young adults to senior citizens. And, surprisingly, age doesn’t seem to factor into curling prowess, as some of the seniors prove more adept than the youngsters at the sport.
Though the lunging motion of an Olympic curler looks so graceful and easy, we find out that the sport is surprisingly difficult to master. When it’s my turn to practice throwing the stone, I place one foot on a hack (like a starting block), grip a stabilizing broom with one hand and the stone with the other hand. I launch into a wobbly lunge, and send the heavy stone sliding a few yards across the ice.
“It’s a lot longer than it looks,” Pfau comments after we learn how challenging it is to send the stone gliding the entire 150-foot length of the curling sheet. Even synchronizing the few steps necessary for a successful throw seems quite the mental hurdle for many of us. “When you’re out there, everything you need to know, you forget,” says rookie curler Lisa Marie Toulouse, “It looks so simple, but you realize it’s not the first time you see someone fall.” Indeed, I consider it a successful throw when I avoid toppling onto the ice (though falls — more embarrassing than painful — happen several times to me and most other members of the group). Curling, it turns out, has a steep learning curve.
I perform better as a sweeper — staying slightly ahead of the stone as it careens down the ice, a partner and I rapidly sweep the ice in front of the stone. This reduces friction, enabling the stone to travel a farther and straighter path toward its target.
After all this curling and sweeping, my increased heart rate tells me that curling is not the leisurely sport I once thought it. “People think curling is not an athletic endeavor,” our skip (instructor/team captain), says, “I tell them — come try it.” And it turns out, once people try curling, they often come back for more — signing up for the Club’s beginner lessons, league play, and Bonspiel (tournament).
Upcoming Learn-to-Curl Sessions:
- Sunday, February 23 from 4:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, February 26 from 7:15 p.m. - 8:15 p.m.
- Saturday, March 1 from 4:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.