Three months ago, I wrote about how wheelchair soccer is becoming a popular sport. Wheelchair curling may not be far behind, at least in Canada. Unlike with wheelchair soccer, there are several wheelchair curling clubs throughout Canada. Presently there are clubs and organizations in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Saskatchewan.
Wheelchair curling has its roots in Europe, where it was first played in the 1990s. The World Curling Federation (WCF) held its first wheelchair curling event in Switzerland in 2002. In 2006, wheelchair curling was formally recognized as a Paralympic event in time for the Paralympic Winter Games held in Torino, Italy. Today, wheelchair curling is played by athletes in more than 20 countries.
What distinguishes wheelchair curling from standard curling is that there is no sweeping (i.e. no brushes are used to help the rock slide further), curlers throw from their chair with a “throwing stick,” and team members position their chairs behind the thrower to keep the chair from sliding backwards. The Ontario Curling Association (OCA) is a member of the Canadian Curling Association (CCA), which in turn belongs to the WCF. In Toronto, games are played from October to March at the Cricket, Skating and Curling Club. In lieu of a playoff period at the end of the season, a Bonspiel tournament takes place in Toronto every January. Other clubs throughout the province come to compete, with an awards banquet at the end.
The most recent Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championship for curlers with disabilities was played in Ottawa in March 2013. Some of the players from these Provincial Championship teams have competed at both the national and international levels.
Wheelchair curling was initially played mainly by paraplegics in manual wheelchairs, but now people with various physical disabilities using power wheelchairs or scooters are known to play. This includes Douglas Gebhart, who has cerebral palsy.
Gebhart has played wheelchair curling in the Toronto club since 2010. His interest in curling began as a child when he watched the likes of Sandra Schmirler and Glenn Howard.
“My friend (Ian) invited me to play, knowing that I liked curling,” he says. “I played before the (2009-10) season ended, and I found l liked it. I immediately signed up the following season,” he says.
Gebhart also says he wanted to find a sport that didn’t involve a lot of physical contact. “When I was 12 years old, I injured my eye when someone threw a basketball at it during a wheelchair basketball game.”
His eye healed up, but he quit playing basketball and vowed to find a sport that was safer. “I promised that as an adult I would find a sport where I wouldn’t get easily hurt. Once I started getting into wheelchair curling, I have never looked back.”
When I went to a curling session recently at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, I was in awe of how the people played with their chairs on the ice. I also discovered you don’t have to have a lot of upper body strength to play. During a break in a game, I threw a few rocks, and they were all good attempts. Attending the curling rink helped me to better appreciate curling as a sport.
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