As a journalist you find yourself in some interesting situations. A little over a week ago I found myself in what reminded me of starting blocks from my high school track days. I wasn't about to push off to run at Kehler, but rather I was balancing on a stone and a stabilizer, on a sheet of ice, about to glide down the ice, before releasing one of the things I was balancing on.
That's right, I was curling. While I was doing something that to be honest seems a bit unnatural at first (aren't we taught not to glide on ice in sneakers), I was actually fulfilling something that has been in my mind for a couple of Olympics now.
I have been interested in curling since the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Some of you may know I went to college up in Western New York, right on the Canadian border and during the Winter Olympics, Canadian television has very detailed coverage of curling, along with other sports. The 1998 Olympics were the first since 1924 with curling as a sport and at the time it was very unusual since basically it looked like shuffle board on ice and there was a broom involved.
One night, in an attempt to understand this new sport and why were Olympic athletes using a broom, my roommates and I spent three hours watching curling on the CBC. I will say we got a better appreciation of the sport during that time and some idea of what was going on and why a broom was being used in the Olympics. Since then, I can say that curling has actually fascinated me.
But like many people, I only really paid attention to curling during the Olympics and not much in between. But I would still watch curling during the Olympics in 2002 and 2006, with the same interest as that night in 1998.
Last year, shortly after Westfield Patch launched, Neil Sullivan mentioned the Plainfield Curling Club to me and his involvement in it and told me that several Westfield families were members. At the time my first thought was, "there's curling in New Jersey." Since at the time I primarily associated curling with Canada, Scotland and U.S. communities along the northern border.
Neil kept mentioning the curling club's activities to me and I started to think this could make for an interesting first person account of learning how to curl. And I could finally get some answers to questions I've had for 12 years.
A little over a week ago, I ventured over to the curling club in South Plainfield for a lesson. Working with Westfield's Dean Roth, I started learning how to push off and maintain my balance while basically squatting on a sheet of ice balancing partially on a granite stone and then sliding down the ice. (Hint, it's not as easy as it looks the first time out.)
Moving past this, I started learning how to position the stone to curl it to the point where the skip (team captain) directs it to go in the house (the bull's eye). I also started learning that the goal is to release the stone with the same momentum that is pulling you along after pushing off and not push the stone when you release.
Then came the next part, basically running on top of a sheet of ice while sweeping in front of the stone in an attempt to direct the stone along the ice. This required me to forget everything I ever knew (and living in Western New York you remember it a lot) about not running on ice. I can luckily say that I did not fall at any point while running on the ice.
So what can I say about my afternoon of curling. It's a lot of fun. Once you get over any thought of "what am I doing on ice in sneakers" you settle in and enjoy yourself. It's harder than it looks. It's a great workout. There is more strategy involved than you would think at first glance, especially once you start learning exactly how they control the stone's direction from even before pushing off.
So you can watch some video here, where you can see me curling, learn more about the sport from Dean Roth and have one last lingering glance at the Olympics before 2014.