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Curling and Possibility (A Reflection from Duluth Curling Club)

I went to the “learn to curl” night at Duluth Curling Club. The club has a storied history:

The Duluth Curling Club was organized in 1891… [The facility] can be expanded to provide up to 13 curling sheets for major events, and is the largest facility in the United States. With this facility, we have grown to the second largest club in the US; only the St Paul (MN) Curling Club, has more members.

We have hosted two World Championships, the US Olympic Trials, and numerous National events. Two DCC members have been inducted into the Curling Hall of Fame, for service to the sport. Numerous members have participated in and won State and National Championships over the years, and even a few World and Olympic Championships.

There are at least three curling clubs in the region, including one in Two Harbors and one in Superior, and I am thinking I will curl in Superior, if my friends out there will have me as I develop my skills.

Learning to curl taught me a lot.

No quitting if you have a good teacher

curling-mdc-2016I failed, miserably, on my first few throws of the stone, losing my balance as I pushed away from the “hack.” I could barely deliver the stone fifty feet because I wobbled, I put my effort into retaining my balance for fear of failing and falling.

My first impulse was that my body betrayed me, that my belly was making me wobble into the lunge. I was ready to split, presuming that I was an overweight man who couldn’t do this.

But … I have never let my weight or size stop me from doing anything, and Matt was a great teacher who stood ahead of me and watched my form. (He was in no danger; the stone wasn’t flying very fast from my hands.) Was I hopeless?

Matt realized that I was sliding on too small a sheet of silicone, my size eleven shoe hanging over all edges of the sheet, explaining some of my balance loss.

Matt also recognized that, until I got used to the stabilizer, I was trying to balance on one foot, not to balance as a three-pointed sliding object. I was swinging my leg around, struggling to stay upright, a chaos of motion, instead of shifting the weight from leg to stabilizer (in case of emergency, even to the stone) to retain my balance.

A good teacher identifies your problems and helps you resolve them. Thank you, Matt, for the guidance.

Once you have your balance, everything is possible

I never do things that require balance. I’m more of an endurance guy than a balance guy, happily walking home from downtown after the buses stop running (when I was a kid, I walked from Milwaukee to Kenosha on a lark). But I never doing much of anything that challenges my sense of balance.

I was ready to quit until I caught my sense of balance. Once I did, things changed. My form is still terrible, but let’s be honest, that’s true in every part of my life. (Gentle Smile Emoji)

Once I had my balance, I began to see how the parts of my body were interacting as I threw the stone. Sometimes, I became worried that I didn’t have enough power from my leg, and I would give an extra push to the stone, then, from my arm right before the release. Quickly, I realized that every time I did that, the stone went too far. I could trust my leg, trust my body.

Eventually, I stopped thinking about curling as shuffleboard and started thinking about it as bowling, remembering that the delivery needs a little spin (“curl”).

Eventually, I realized, I could do this.

It’s not bowling, though

As I would when bowling, I would wait after the throw, watching the results. But the throw takes longer to resolve, and I created some melted spots in the ice where I was kneeling. I need to learn to get up faster, as a courtesy to the other bowlers (like “replacing my divot” in golf). Until then, a kneepad will keep my body heat off the ice.

You only get two throws

In the second round or “end,” I was the “skip.” You throw last, when you are the skip, and you spend most of the “end” watching the action from the target area, signaling what your team needs to know. I remembered why being a professor was not a liability here. I know how to learn.

I put it all together, and I threw, and I was (I am told, I was at the other end of the court) within a foot of the button, making all the “almost” shots of the other (yellow) team irrelevant. Props to my sweepers, who rocked, and to the skip, who told them when to stop sweeping and just let it happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure I will still be killed every time I play with my friend Steve. But I can put it all together.

(On my next throw, the advice from the third was to “throw light,” so that the stone would stop short and block the “hammer” from the opposing team’s final throw. I chickened out, I didn’t want to risk knocking my own stone away from the button. Fear of failure.  I threw so light, the stone didn’t make it into the house. I still have a lot to learn.)

Closing, attempting to turn a night at the Curling Club into a metaphor of self-discovery

It’s one night; my curling adventure is beginning. Someone messaged me afterward, saying they were worried about whether I would hurt when I was done, doubting that I would do it again. I get why. I’m very vocal about being a professor, someone who has chosen a life that is intellectually rigorous but physically unchallenging. (I chose education in part because I saw the way the working men in my family hurt, coming home from the Nunn Bush shoe factory, retiring from Kurth Malting, sore every day).

And knowing how I felt in the first twenty minutes, as I could not master the lunge without tumbling, I guess I can see how they would feel like I might quit.

Curling night reminded me of two truths about myself:

  • Curling surprised at least one person dear to me.  I have a lifetime of doing things that surprise other people, in realizing what is possible in me.
  • What is possible is immense because I know the value of a mentor, the value of bringing my brain and my body together in balance. I will still tumble, still throw too light, in both cases because I am more afraid of failure than seeking to succeed. My (curling) adventure is just beginning.

Matt and Kris, my curling instructors, you have taught me to curl, but you gave me an experience that helped me rethink something about myself. So thank you.

And thank you, Michelle, friend who was present, again, by accident, for a fun night.

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