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Wheelchair curling - how to play and how to get involved

It's a simple game

Wheelchair curling is a simple game. You slide granite donuts down a sheet of ice towards a circular target, and hope they end up closer to the centre than those thrown by your opponent.

Mind you, these donuts weigh over 40 pounds and the target is 40 yards away, but hey, the target is 12 feet wide. That looks a pretty big area when you're sitting in it; when you're down the other end about to throw, well, maybe not so much.

wheelchair curler delivering a rockWheelchair curlers play with the same rocks and on the same ice as regular curlers, though the rocks are thrown from a stationary wheelchair, and there is no sweeping.

The great thing about wheelchair curling is that just about anyone with access to a wheelchair can play. Iíve shared the ice with paras, quads, amputees, post-polios, people with MS, spina bifida, guys recovering from strokes and a couple with conditions with names so long and convoluted they defy description.

Age is no barrier either, and teams at national and international events played under World Curling Federation rules, are mixed gender.

Thereís very little if any equipment to buy, which will be a relief to those brought up on hockey. If you can get into your local club, and onto the ice, this is the sport for you. The ice at most clubs can be made accessible with the addition of a small ramp. Ice makers will often already have one for their own equipment.

All you need to bring to the game is the co-ordination to exert a measured pushing force, and a tolerance for cold. If you live in New Zealand you probably still curl on a frozen lake, but in Canada we play indoors. It is cold out on the ice though, and with no sweeping, wheelchair curling is not an aerobic activity.

How to get started

If you've curled before, or seen wheelchair curling, you'll have some idea what you need to do to be able to move a rock the required distance. If you're completely new to the game search YouTube for wheelchair curling videos

Most wheelchair curling starts with a curling club being open to the idea of wheelchair users participating in their activities. Calling or visiting a local club would be a good place to begin. You could also try contacting your local or regional curling association for information.

The Canadian Curling Association has also produced a brochure on how to get wheelchair curling started at club level. Contact Danny Lamoureux for information.

But don't sit back waiting for someone to start up a program that you can join. line up and shootGo to a club, watch and talk to the manager and curlers. Say you've heard wheelchair curling is a great winter recreational activity and that you'd like to give it a go. Some communities and sports organisations hold "give-it-a-go" days where curlers and coaches are available to assist and answer questions. If you know some wheelchair users that would come out, then offer to help organise one in your area.

You don't need a lot of expensive equipment. More and more clubs cater to curlers who can no longer crouch down, by encouraging the use of push sticks. CLICK HERE to read my review of 2 popular makes.

Take someone with you when you go out on the ice. Some people are able to push rocks from their wheelchair without being braced. Others, me included, need someone to hold their chair steady when they throw.

When you first go out on the ice, try pushing rocks into the rings from 20 feet away - not 120. The single best thing you can do for yourself starting out is to learn a smooth repeatable push of the stone. When you have a feel for that, learn how to make the rock rotate, clockwise and counter-clockwise, when it leaves your stick.

Once you can push a rock straight, with the correct rotation, then and only then move further back. If you are ever going to get a sense of control over where the rock is going, you need a repeatable delivery motion that works for you. Add distance by pushing harder, when your have worked on basic technique.

Having said that, not every curler wants to work hard or become an expert, and just as not every bowling ball is destined to stay out of the gutter, not every curling rock is destined to hit its target. The nice thing about curling is that with up to 15 other rocks in play, you've a good chance of hitting something, and a very satisfying sound that something will make when you hit it.

Curling is played at every level of ability. Fun leagues have complete beginners and people there for the social side of the game. That's a great place to learn how to curl. As you improve there will be other leagues that will test your skills. You don't need other wheelchair users to play with, but if you start playing, others will follow.

This is still a very new sport. The rules are in flux, the traditions unset. Best practices have yet to become fossilized into conventional wisdom. There's no reason why on a wheelchair team, the lead or second can't skip. There's no particular reason why a team should be 4 players. 2 works just as well if you can deliver a rock without needing to be braced. It could be that the future of wheelchair curling lies not in attempting to copy regular curling, but in joining the growing sport of stick curling, playing 2 on 2 without sweepers.

So here's your starting out checklist:

Seek out a club, take a tour, buy a drink at the bar, or ask for one to be brought down to you, talk to some curlers, and let it be known that you'd like to learn to curl.

Curling from a wheelchair is not an aerobic activity, so wrap up warm when you go out on the ice.

find a way to attach the stick to your handBorrow or buy a delivery stick. If your hands are like mine and canít grip a pole, find some other way of attaching your hand to the stick. The skip of Team Ontario has his stick fixed to his hand with duct tape and he went 5 - 0 in a National Championship round robin.

Try out different ways to throw, different lengths of stick, and different positions of the rocks in relation to your wheelchair. Your delivery will be individual to you as it will depend on what your body can do, so experiment to discover what feels most comfortable. Coaches can refine a delivery, but you must find a basic motion that works for you.

Join an able-bodied fun league, where having one less sweeper isn't going to mean life or death. Or get together with some other wheelchair users and form your own team. You will probably compete mostly against able-bodied curlers, but if you're ambitious, you can always try out for provincial and national wheelchair teams.

And lastly but most importantly, have fun. Curling has its place in Canadian hearts because it is an inclusive, sociable sport.

See you on the ice,

Eric Eales
Kelowna, BC

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