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by Laura Anderson,
North Shore News

Norwester on the ice. News photo, Mike Wakefield

Norwester on the ice. News photo, Mike Wakefield

At the opening of the World Curling Championship yesterday in Victoria, Canada met China in the first game of the series that will culminate with the Gold Medal game on April 7th.. Since the event began in 1959, Canada has won the world championships 33 times, bringing home the title for the last three years in a row.

Meanwhile, the members of the Norwest Senior Men’s Curling Club are digging out the lawn bowling balls, shaking out the golf clubs, dusting off the fishing tackle. Garth Phillips is one of the exceptions. He’ll be in Spain in May to compete at a bonspiel before returning home to play slow pitch ball all summer.

Curling is increasingly popular globally but the sport that originated centuries ago in Scotland is most firmly established in Canada. Curling has come a long way since the days when throwing rocks across frozen ponds was the primary winter social event on the prairies. Today, sportsmanship and camaraderie continue to be hallmarks of the sport but the game, now played indoors, is several degrees more comfortable.

Many of the Norwesters started out curling on those frozen prairie ponds, returning to the sport later in life. Rob Pellatt was introduced to curling as a teenager at Prince of Wales high school in Vancouver. He played until life in the form of family and work commitments took precedence. When he retired six years ago, Pellatt picked up a broom and came back to curling.

Others, like Marwyn Thomas, recruited by Pellatt, his brother in law, are new to the sport. Thomas, who admits he was “mostly afraid of falling on my behind”, was named the club’s Rookie of the Year. “Well, I was the only rookie,” he laughs. The great thing about curling, he says, is “no matter how old you are, you can keep on playing.”

Playing safely at any age is important in curling and using the right equipment helps. “Grippers” anchor feet to the ice, special headbands protect craniums and the curling stick can be employed to push the stones from a standing position.

Art Cameron, 92, with the club since 1980 and Herb Penner, 93, who joined in 1990, are the club’s most senior members. Walter Knecht, one of those who played as a boy on the prairies, is in his early 60’s, one of the youngest players. Most of the Norwesters are, like Thomas, Phillips and Pellatt, somewhere in between.

The Norwesters can put together a dozen four-man teams. Four team draws throughout the season ensure that players circulate and play different positions on new teams. The system gives players experience in all aspects of the sport and fosters the team spirit that is at the heart of curling.

For most members, curling is less about competition and more about exercise, both physical and mental. Curling, known as “chess on ice”, develops flexibility, balance and coordination of the body and the brain. Instead of expending energy to heave the rock from one end to the other, players focus on strategy and finesse.

Good sportsmanship is integral to the sport and reflected in its traditions. In keeping with the Spirit of Curling, matches begin with a handshake and “good luck”. Congratulations are exchanged over good shots and the winning team buys their opponents a beverage after the match. Après-curling, the camaraderie flourishes as the match is replayed and plans made for the next meeting of the men with brooms.

Come September at the North Shore Winter Club, the sheets are conditioned and the curling rocks are unpacked. Everyone from children to seniors is welcome to come “throw a couple of rocks” and get a handle on curling at the North Shore Winter Club. During the season at the club, Norwester volunteers participate in the Getting Started program, introducing children of all ages to curling. “It’s great to watch seniors who have played all their lives teach this great game to children and young people,” says Liz Goldenberger, Director of Curling.

For more information about the Norwesters, call Rob Pellatt at 604-985-3423 or email Walter Knecht at norwesters@shaw.ca. Liz Goldenberger at the North Shore Winter Club, 604-985-4135 ext270, has information about curling programs.

UPDATE: Canada won that first game opposite China and was aced ultimately by two points by Sweden aced at the 2013 World Curling Championships held in Victoria, BC.