in SWEEP! Magazine - November 2007)
When is a wheelchair
curler not a wheelchair curler?
When he (or she) does
not use a wheelchair for their daily mobility, according to WCF
eligibility rule 2g. Enter all-round good guy and 6-time Brier
competitor Jim Armstrong whose playing career was curtailed by knee
injuries. Though he is still ambulant, a Canadian sports classifier said
Armstrong was eligible for domestic play. He was given a wheelchair and
invited to try out for the national squad by friend and former Brier
team mate Gerry Peckham.
Hopes for Armstrong's return to competitive ice were dashed when the WCF
ruled him ineligible for the Worlds and Paralympics.
"We do not believe there is any ambiguity in the classification
guidelines which have met with the approval of the International
Paralympic Committee," said Kate Caithness, WCF Vice-President for
wheelchair curling, in answer to a direct question about Canadian fears
that ambiguities in classification might lead to an uneven playing
Strong grassroots opposition to Armstrong's invitation appeared to take
Canadian coaches by surprise. "I don't see a downside," said Peckham
when warned that his decision to include Armstrong would be
controversial. "Either we gain a player of enormous experience and
presence on the ice, or we gain a valuable coaching resource."
National team coach Joe Rea also reported his squad comfortable with the
Collinda Joseph, who competed in the 2007 Ontario playdowns, spoke for
many full-time wheelchair users and curlers not presently sponsored by
the CCA. "This is a very big disappointment and I personally think, a
slap in the face to wheelchair curlers in Canada," she said. "[It] does
not support the policy of long-term athlete development."
Peckham is clear, however, that selection will depend execution. "Even
if Jim [had been] declared eligible by the WCF, he [would] still have
[had] to be one of the top four in execution to get on the team."
This is good news for the two quadriplegics on the squad. They have been
assured that their opportunity to represent their country will not be
affected by their need for attendant care, as may have been the case in
other less well funded sports.
Despite much having been made of "athleticism" as an important criterion
for Paralympics selection in the "Own The Podium" report, Peckham says
he defines athleticism as ability to execute on the ice, an enlightened
attitude for which he is to be applauded.
The national squad competed in Prague in October, and will travel to
spiels in Oslo and Utica, NY before the 2008 World Championship team is
selected on December 10th.
In The Money
Last March the CCA announced that the Toronto Stock Exchange had agreed
to donate $400,000 in support of the Discover Curling initiative. Part
of the money from this program (four year budget $650,000) will go to
support wheelchair curling at the grassroots. How much? "It is safe to
say we will be spending a lot of money on wheelchair curling," said the
CCA's Danny Lamoureux. "It is tough to say what the exact amount is as
many of the projects and promotion materials overlap."
Gold medal Paralympics skip Chris Daw is now under contract with the CCA
as Development Coordinator for Discover Curling, working primarily with
special needs communities. He has already run a well attended weekend
wheelchair clinic in Winnipeg, and other clinics are scheduled for
Halifax, St. John's, Montreal, and Thunder Bay with future plans to
include PEI, Yukon and Saskatchewan.
If you or someone you know wants to try curling from a wheelchair,
here's a tip I learned from Michael McCreadie, twice World Champion and
likely GB skip in 2010.
When you first push a curling rock, do it from close to the rings. Try
to get a delivery motion that feels comfortable and that you can repeat,
whether from the side or the front of your chair.
The harder you push the harder it is to maintain accuracy. By starting
close to the target, you'll help preserve your accuracy while you're
still learning how to push and rotate the rocks. When you have an
accurate delivery, gradually increase the distance the rock has to
Michael also says when he invites an able bodied curler onto the ice to
coach his team, he asks them to use a wheelchair. That way the coach
sees what the curlers see.
As always you can find news, results, articles and resources for all
aspects of wheelchair curling at www.wheelchaircurling.com
See you on the ice,
Eric Eales - Kelowna, September, 2007