Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What Do Curling and Parkinson's Disease Have in Common?

It is such a strange contest. Men and women approach, point at a distant target, and then launch themselves onto a sheet of ice from a "hack" in order to throw 40 pound "stones", sometimes called the "hammer", at a "house" located some 120 feet away, using aggressive phrases such as, "take out", and "guard". The players involved do not necessarily look like typical athletes. It could not be concluded that the best players were the best conditioned. They wear little in the way of special garb or protective gear because injury is rare.

Such is the game of curling, a permanent Olympic sport since 1998. It is a game of oddities, especially when compared with the thrills, spills, speed and stamina of other Olympic competitions. In fact, some would argue it has no place on the medal podium reserved for those that evidence unquestionable athletic prowess. Despite any similarities, it is very different than shuffleboard. It has been compared to horseshoes and golf, and also nicknamed "chess on ice". Finesse, skill and strategy combine in competition to form this highly challenging game played in winter climates the world around. Although the Scottish inventors of the game are still tough competition, Canadians have become dominant adversaries in this poorly understood and often derided sport.

Strange as it may seem in a country, and city, hooked on hockey, curling was the game I most wanted to see at the Olympics currently being held in Vancouver. This morning I took the risk of heading to the curling venue ticketless, praying for a friendly and desperate scalper. My prayers were answered by the first gentleman I met as he held up a ticket for a well-placed seat and said, "$80 and it is yours". Given the modest $15 premium over face value, a small price to pay for having left my decision to the last minute, and the fact that the place was sold out, I thought it was a bargain. In fact, this was a bargain when compared with any of the other Olympic sports where tickets ranged from $150 up to many thousands of dollars. The value is especially evident when you realize that you could watch four curling matches concurrently, with a good view of each.

The game of curling is easily distinguishable from the other Olympic competitions in a number of ways. Some would even call it the ugly duckling of the Olympics. First, it is the slowest paced game, involving no one traveling at a speed faster than a brisk walk, albeit on ice. Movement on the ice surface is comprised of shuffles and a brief sliding on one foot, sometimes using a long handled brush for support or "sweeping" none of which are measured for technical merit nor artistry. It is played on the smallest surface of all other winter sports. As long as you have reasonable strength, a deft touch and excellent eyesight, and of course a lot of skill and many years practice, there is nothing to preclude you from being the best in the world. It is not unusual to find among each country’s 4 member teams the oldest Olympians competing (this year, the Canadian, Carolyn Darbyshire at the age of 46)

I love watching curling. Mostly because it represents an enjoyable chapter in my youth, it also reflects pride in my family members, given that my nephews, Brad and Ryan Kuhn, were Canadian Junior Champions, and then World Junior Champions, in 2000. But I love the game because it is an oddball in the world of sports. It reminds me of Parkinson's disease. Just as the sport is often misunderstood, so it is with PD. Just as the disease involves a small team committed to a common strategy, each member utilizing their best efforts with their unique skill sets, so too does Parkinson's. It is a slow game, but nonetheless may require you to dig down deep and maintain an attitude of courage over a series of battles where the opponent wants nothing more than to take you out of play. Any of us could relate to someone on a curling team. They are everyday folk, just like the people with Parkinson's. Perhaps we could learn something from these Olympians with their camaraderie, commitment, consistency and caring to do their very best.

1 comment:

  1. The backyard game bocco is similar to curling without a stick, or horseshoe either. You might enjoy that game if you haven't tried it. My hubby and I enjoy a friendly little competition in our own backyard in the summer evenings. It also reminds me of horseshoes and frisbee golf, and curling.