“I can say that it is a total thrill to play in front of a packed house of cheering fans from across the country.”
February 8th, 2019
Written by: Maureen Bonar (A.K.A. Mo-Money)
Competing at the national level in any sport is something every athlete strives for – and once you’ve made it there, you want nothing more than to return and do it again. You will hear curlers say how prestigious and great the Brier and Scotties are to compete in. From experience, I can say that it is a total thrill to play in front of a packed house of cheering fans from across the country. Getting there, however, takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and commitment.
In the lead up to the event, your team prepares for everything and ‘no stone is left unturned’, pardon the pun. You plan for everything from practice schedules, game management, pre and post game preparations, sports psychology meetings, rock selection and throwing sequence, ice review, game strategy, media responses, corporate sponsor commitments, meals, off-ice uniforms, transportation, work out sessions, sleeping arrangements, scheduled commitments, autograph sessions, family itineraries, hotel requirements (humidifiers a must!), and more. During the Brier, take a closer look at the teams and what they are doing. You will be able to pick up on how well some teams manage themselves.
My first experience attending a national curling championship was in 1983 in Prince George, which happened to be the second year that Scotties was the title corporate sponsor of the event. Ten years later, I returned to compete at the Scotties National Women’s Curling Championship as skip of Team Manitoba. Our team consisted of myself (skip), Lois Fowler (Third), Allyson Bell (Second), Rhonda Fowler (Lead), Gerri Cooke (5th), and Brian Fowler (Coach).
The event was being hosted in our hometown of Brandon and even more intriguing was the fact my third, Lois Fowler, was the Host Chairperson and I was a committee volunteer leading up to the event. We all had to quickly shift from volunteer roles to our new roles as competitors. Prior to this national event, our team was really unknown and underrated going into the Championship. Those not familiar with the Championship in and around Brandon referred to us as the ‘host team’ not actually the representing Manitoba Team.
“Looking back on the entire experience always brings a smile and a few laughs. Remembering my very first skip stone thrown in our game against team Newfoundland. We all had ‘chicken legs’ pushing out of the hack, wiggling and wobbling that first end. I recall throwing a bumper shot hit and ending up so light on the throw, I froze down directly on the opposition stone for shot stone. The crowd of over 5,000 erupted, and my third and I giggled under our breaths at the missed but made shot!”
Maureen Bonar, A.K.A. Mo Money.
We had a good start to the week racking up a couple of wins, but faulted with consecutive losses. We had an evening draw off, went back to our hotel rooms to relax (yes, we all had to stay in the hotel even though I could see my house from my hotel room) and watch the other games on TSN. As we watched, we also got an earful of criticism from then TSN colour commentator, Ray Turnbull (a fellow Manitoban).
Most teams would have been down and out with the losses plus demoralized by the comments, but not our team. It fueled our fire from within! Ray’s words resonated with us and we ran the table on the rest of our games, putting us into the finals. I think we proved to Ray (we thanked him afterwards too) and many other doubters that we, in fact, had game.
Our round robin game against Nova Scotia was quite memorable too. My second, Allyson Bell, was five months pregnant at the time and, while her and my lead were sweeping a rock, she slipped back, throwing her broom up in the air, catching the forehead of my lead, Rhonda Fowler, and knocking her to the ice. With a huge goose egg and mild concussion, Rhonda watched from the side while our 5th player, Gerri Cooke, filled in for the remainder of the game. We ended up winning that game, with the Nova Scotia third commenting to the media that we intentionally did it to throw them off their game. You just can’t make this stuff up!
Other memories and laughs happened off the ice. I never realized how many lost relatives I had who came out to watch and cheer us on. And gathering at the Heart Stop Lounge for a drink and a line dance competition with other teams will always be a fond memory. But the biggest memory of all was playing in the final game in front of over 5,500 fans and many familiar faces cheering us on. Sitting in the hack on my final shot of the extra end game, talking to myself to slow down my breathing and relax, reminding myself to let the sweepers carry the rock to the house (could have put a little more weight on it), and leaving the opposition in a ‘must make their shot to win’ position. The late and great Sandra Schmirler from Saskatchewan made the shot and won the Championship.
It was a fantastic run and a dream come true to play in front of our home town. Yes, it would have been thrilling to win and go on to Geneva Switzerland to play in the World Championships representing Canada, but it was not to be. And just like that, you look forward to the next curling season where you hope to do it all over again.