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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Paralympians visit Janesville with eye on making national curling team

By MARCIA NELESEN ( Contact ) Saturday, March 17, 2012       
— A paralympic champion whose team lost out on a bronze medal in 2010 by less than an inch will be in Janesville this weekend as the United States continues to round out its national team.

Five wheelchair curlers will be judged on their skills on the Blackhawk Curling Club’s home ice at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds. The public is welcome to watch.

Paralympian Patrick McDonald, 44, Madison, said people can see national-level athletes in action. He predicted tough, exciting competition.

McDonald was a member of the 2010 paralympic team.

“The day after the closing ceremonies of 2010, I started training for 2014,” he said.

The U.S. wheelchair curling team, of which McDonald is a member, just returned from Chuncheon, South Korea, where it placed fifth at the world championships. The finish assures the United States a spot at next year’s world championships and the 2014 Paralympic Games that will be held in Sochi, Russia.

McDonald will help at the trials this weekend in Janesville, where two out of five athletes will go on to national competition in October in Madison. McDonald already has qualified for the tryouts, where 12 athletes will compete for five positions on the national team.

Three of the five athletes competing in Janesville this weekend are from Portland, Ore., one is from Columbus, Ohio, and the fifth is from Green Bay.

The pre-trials were moved to Janesville because the ice was available, and the local club was happy to help out at the national level, McDonald said.

“If you’re a sports enthusiast, it’s always good to see high-end athletes perform,” he said.
In regular curling, curlers launch 40-pound stones and sweepers use brooms to help steer the stones down the ice. At the Olympic level, curlers estimate sweeping is 38 to 40 percent of the game, McDonald said. Some people say sweepers can drag a stone 10 or 12 feet.

In wheelchair curling, curlers use sticks to shoot stones from stationary positions. They don’t have sweepers to steer the sliding stones and must depend on their own skill.

McDonald has been in a wheelchair since he was injured in an accident while patrolling the demilitarized zone in Korea 20 years ago.

He fell in love with curling the first time he gave it a try. When he got serious about it, he moved with his wife and two children from California to Madison, where his coaching staff lives.

“It’s a thinking game,” McDonald said. “It’s all strategy.”

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