Olympic Adventures – Curling

I hope you didn’t think a concussion could keep me down!  Just like Bob Costas, I’m back in fighting shape in time for the second week of the Olympics. This week I tried curling, a sport that sometimes seems to be the butt of many Olympic jokes, but I found it to be my kind of sport: a fantastic combination of strategic and social.

I started my curling adventure with Greg Eisenhauer of the Broomstone Curling Club in Wayland, Massachusetts. Broomstone was established in 1968, and now has about 325 adult members and 80 junior players. Greg was kind enough to give me an introduction to the sport, and even let me “deliver” a few stones.

A curling team consists of four members: the skip who is the strategist of the group and offers his team members direction, the vice who releases or “delivers” the stone (which is exactly that, a stone that has been cooled for at least 24 hours), and two sweepers who, yes, you guessed it, they sweep those brooms that have come to personify the sport.

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The Broomstone Curling Club

In a nutshell, the object of curling is to get your stone as close to the center or “the button” of the target, referred to as “the house” at the end of the lane. You can strategize to get your stone close to the button, to knock one of your other stones close to the button than it already is, or to knock one of the opposing teams’ stones away from the button.

The sweeping can smooth the pebbled ice surface (resurfacing curling ice required a totally different technique than a typical ice rink’s zamboni, it includes scraping the surface first than dripping warm water in a process called “pebbling”) to make a stone slide further. You can sweep near both your, and the opposing team’s stones, but you can’t touch the stones with the broom, that’s called “burning the stone.”

Once Greg explained the basics of curling to me it was time for me to hit the ice and deliver some stones of my own. All members of a curling team wear special shoes that allow them to slide on the ice. For no one are these shoes as important as for the vice. A vice launches themselves from something that resembles the starting block in a track meet, and slides across the ice in a lunge-like position, bringing the stone along with him or her, until they gently release their grip on the stone, which then slides the rest of the way to the other end of the lane on its own.

Outfitted in a loaner pair of sliding soles, I took to the ice and started sliding. Greg gave me a plastic frame so that I had a little more balance (which, after my speed skating fiasco, was much appreciated). My first problem was that I was lunging too aggressively, bashing my knee on the ice, instead of gently letting it skim the surface of the ice.

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Eye on the prize

But practice makes perfect, and after a handful of attempts, and a few falls (thankfully landing on my butt instead of my head this time) I got the hang of it. I was able to glide across the ice, deliver the stone somewhat elegantly, and have it come to a stop inside the house, if not on the button. Curling does take a lot of coordination, but as I have learned over and over again on this blog, the more work it takes to master something, the more rewarding it is when you do indeed master it. And even when I was slip-sliding over the ice, I was having a great time and both Greg and I were laughing.

I am really concentrating on not falling over!

I am really concentrating on not falling over!

What I loved about curling was that it’s technically challenging, strategic and collaborative. Working together as a team can be a challenge in itself, cooperating both verbally and physically at the same time ups the ante. But as Greg explained, and as I saw by watching the matches that followed my lesson, curling is a very social sport. I could see teammates and opponents laughing and joking in between throws. And the best of all, the winners buy the first round once the match is over. This is my type of sport.

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Having a blast!

Many thanks to Greg Eisenhauer from the Broomstone Curling Club. They offer leagues nearly every night of the week, if you are interesting in getting your curl on. I was not compensated in any way for this post.

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Olympics Endeavors: Starting Off with a Bang

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I LOVE the Olympics and during the summer Olympics in London I tried out some events like taekwondo, fencing and synchronized swimming with varying degrees of success. So as the competition in Sochi heats up, and the icky saga of Bob Costas’ eye drags on, I set out to see if I could master some winter events. And I started out with a bang, literally. I got a concussion.

Speed skating is one of those sports that appears effortless when experts do it. Each stride is so powerful that at times it almost seems as if they are skating in slow motion. I knew it would be a challenge, but I thought I could master at least the large arm swings associated with the sport.  The kind folks at the Bay State Speed Skating Club provided a sizable list of supplies for me to collect and bring to my first lesson.  There were so many elements needed, I ended up looking like a sporting goods store’s back room: volleyball knee pads, a hockey neck guard, gloves and my ski helmet (you will understand the importance of this in a moment). After gearing up and strapping on my loaner speed skates I was ready to hit the ice.

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Speed skating is all about the quads. The correct positioning for a speed skater is a low crouch, so that each stride is powerful. Your arms are less for balance than to amplify the power of the legs. When a speed skater goes around the turn of the track, they lean very far in to the turn, which again is all quads.

The Bay State Speed Skaters going really fast

The Bay State Speed Skaters going really fast

My problem began just about as soon as my blades hit the ice. Speed skates have a much longer blade than the figure skates of my youth. They are completely flat on the bottom, with sharp edges on both sides. On just my second lap around the rink I misjudged the length of my blade (my muscle memory was thinking figure skates) I clipped the back edge of one blade on the tip of the other skate and down I went. Hard. The back of my head slammed against the ice and bounced up before my entire body came to rest on the ice in a heap, the wind totally knocked out of me.

Tod, my speed skating tutor rushed over and asked if I was ok. I lied. He asked me if I wanted to stop. Again, I lied. I had barely been on the ice for 10 minutes, I couldn’t give up now, I thought. But in fact I probably should have; my head was killing me, my vision was blurry, my balance felt off and my confidence was non-existent. Continuing on was not so much about me being tough as it was about not wanting to seem like a wimp. This blog has helped me make such strides in becoming unafraid, gutsy, and strong that to stop almost felt like a regression.

For the next hour I moved around the track at a glacial pace, it was as if I had never skated before. I was so nervous about falling again that I wasn’t able to throw myself into this adventure the way I usually do. Five-year-olds were lapping me, many time over. But Tod was incredibly patient, always staying only a few feet from me and at one point holding my hands while I practiced cross-overs in place (Yes, I was basically a 5’8” toddler).

See how low Tod is? See how not low I am?

See how low Tod is? See how not low I am?

I have rarely felt such an odd, controlled, slow motion fear in my life. It wasn’t as if someone was chasing me and I was running for my life.  I was putting myself in this situation, moving at a snail’s pace, knowing something was wrong with me and terrified to fall again and hurt myself further.

Although my vision was blurry, I could see the skill of the other skaters around me. They ranged in age from 5 to their 50’s of varying skill levels, all more advanced than me, of course. I could tell they were all having an amazing time. Some of them were former hockey players, others were long-time speed skaters, there was another adult who was brand new to the sport. While I was not able to experience all that speed skating has to offer, I gained a new respect for what speed skaters are able to do: hug tight turns, skate at very high speeds, and most importantly maintain their balance.

Don’t worry about me. A week after my fall I am feeling much better; no more headaches, my vision is once again clear…I’m pretty much back to normal (or as normal as I usually am). But I’m going to be less afraid of seeming like a wimp in the future. Sometimes safe and practical is the way to go.

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I’d like to thank Kim, Tod and all the wonderful folks of Bay State Speed Skating Club. Despite my fall, I learned a great deal and I encourage anyone who is interested in speed skating to attend one of their classes. Just don’t forget your helmet. I was not compensated for this post in any way.

My Trip through the Heartland

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to post this week, because I’ve been on the road and haven’t had the time to line-up one of my usual adventures. But as seems to be the case more often than not, my everyday life turned into an adventure. Does this happen to everyone, or just me? And if I’m in the minority, is it luck or a curse?

My trip took me to Kansas and Arkansas, with an unexpected nine-hour drive through Oklahoma.  We (I was reunited with the talented photographer Jeff Allen who you may have met here last year) drove all over Kansas, literally, and met some pretty cool Kansans, including Miss Kansas 2013 herself, Theresa Vail. You may have heard about Theresa around the time of the Miss America pageant earlier this year. There was a lot of buzz surrounding her, or more specifically, surrounding her tattoos. Theresa was the first Miss America contestant to ever show her tattoos during the competition, and that seemingly benign milestone garnered a lot of attention.

Theresa did not grow up like the pint-sized princesses on “Toddlers and Tiaras.” Last year’s Miss Kansas pageant was the first she ever entered. While she is the first title-holder (please note, this is the correct term, not beauty queen) I have ever met, I have to assume her motivation is unique. She entered the contest to debunk misconceptions of what girls can and cannot do. And boy did I see what she could do when she taught me how to bow hunt.

Theresa has been a hunter since the age of 11, and a year and a half ago she picked up her first bow. Archery was actually going to be her “talent” in the Miss America pageant, but there was an insurance clause precluding moving objects, so she had to settle for singing opera. Theresa let me test out her bow, and compared to the summer camp archery of my childhood, this is a new generation of bows and arrows with sites, grips and a trigger.

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Allen

After we determined that I am a “left eye shooter” (I’m left eye dominate therefore I used a left-handed bow, despite being right handed in all other aspects of my life), Theresa got me situated with the bow. Then came the tough part: pulling the arrow back into a ready position. Theresa has a 50 lb. bow, which means it takes 50 lbs. of effort to pull the arrow back. That space between the resting position of the bow and ready position with the arrow pulled all the way back is called “the valley.” It took some effort to pull the arrow through the valley, but as soon as I got it there, I could clearly see through the site.

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Allen

When I pulled the trigger (which wraps around our hand and connects to the end of the arrow) the arrow sailed through the air, with some birds scattering as it wizzed by them. The reaction from my handful of on-lookers was one of amazement. My arrow had gone straight ahead, and although I had not been aiming for them, I nearly hit a bird (When you are as innately talented as I am, who needs to aim?).

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Allen

“That was really good,” Theresa said, laughing with surprise.

The entire experience was really fun (and I’m not just saying that because I was pretty good at it). So fun, in fact, I may look to take up archery back in Boston. While I may not be ready to use a bow and arrow to hunt (had I actually hit one of those birds I likely would have burst into tears), target practice may be a good place to start.

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Allen

After my introduction to bow hunting, we piled into our car (not Theresa, she got into her Miss Kansasmobile) and took off on a cross-state adventure. With Winter Storm Cleon cancelling our flight from Kansas to Arkansas, we pledged that a little snow and ice would not keep us down, so we decided to drive the nine hours to Little Rock. For the girl who hates to drive, this took some convincing, but once we got going I realized the benefits. The road trip provided me with a window seat for dozens of scenes from America’s Heartland. We drove through spots I had never been to, and very well may never have made it to in my life. The people I met along the way were some of the nicest I have ever met. And the topography, while certainly not diverse, offered a new view of America: one of big sky, flat prairies and tons of cows.

Somewhere in Kansas

Somewhere in Kansas

Somewhere in Oklahoma

Somewhere in Oklahoma

I had not expected adventure this week, just a business trip. But it seems that you can find new, exciting and treasured experiences anywhere, you just have to be open to the possibilities of what lies right in front of you…or right outside your car window.

I’d like to Thank Theresa Vail for taking the time to give me an archery lesson, and for showing me what title-holders (not beauty queens) are be made of. I’d also like to thank my incredibly talented friend, photographer Jeff Allen, for the beautiful images above, and for being a great co-pilot. I was not compensated for this post in any way.

Jeff Allen, loving life

Jeff Allen loving life