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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Wheelchair curling gets sneak peek at Sochi

By Jeff Hawkins | Feb 15, 2013, 3:30 PM ET
A stone’s throw from Lambeau Field, the Green Bay (Wis.) Curling Club is often dark when Penny Greely arrives. But Greely understands she is relatively inexperienced and has some catching up to do. With so much to learn, she shows up early to work — real early.

“I’m the only wheelchair woman in the club and (the members) have been good to me,” Greely said.

Nearly three years ago, the bronze medalist from the 2004 U.S. Paralympic Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team was searching for a new athletic challenge. She heard of an opportunity in wheelchair curling.

“I thought, ‘It’s not far from my house. I’ll go check it out,’” Greely recalled of her initial visit to meet national coaches at the club.

Located a few miles from the home Greely shares with her husband and teenage stepson, the curling club has served as her starting point. It’s been a fast ride from curiosity … to passion.

Greely threw her first stone in July 2010. Two months later, she was a Team USA alternate. This week, Greely is scheduled to shoot lead during the upcoming world championship in Sochi, Russia.

Team USA was scheduled to depart for the 2013 World Wheelchair Curling Championships earlier this week. Competition starts Saturday. The finals are Feb. 23. The week-long spectacle likely is serving as a prep event for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

“I trained hard,” Greely said. “Learning strategy is the big thing. I have picked it up relatively quickly.”

The current U.S. squad of Greely, Jimmy “Jam” Joseph, David Palmer, Patrick McDonald (the skip) and alternate Meghan Lino is in position to compete at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. With a recent roster overhaul, Team USA appears to fielding a squad with improved chemistry.

“Before, we had ego issues,” Joseph said last Friday.


“Our team is gelling really good,” Joseph said.

Coach Steve Brown and Joseph, a nine-year veteran, attributed much of the continuity to the newcomers, Greely and Lino, who is making her international debut in Sochi.

Joseph was asked of the team’s expectations at Sochi, this week and likely next year. Raising his voice a few octaves, he said: “We’re going to be No. 1, baby.”

Early favorites Canada and Russia likely would debate Joseph’s proclamation. South Korea, China, Slovakia, Scotland and Sweden also will compete. Team USA has never captured gold.

After Team USA fell short of capturing a bronze medal on the final stone at the Vancouver 2012 Paralympic Winter Games, Joseph said he is using the fourth-place finish as motivation. The conclusion of the 2012 world championships is also fueling the fire.

“We started out 5-0,” Joseph said of Team USA’s quick start of the 2012 world championships in Chuncheon, South Korea. The Americans quickly faded out of the medal round.

“It was kind of a bummer,” Joseph said. “I believe we have potential.”

As coach of a team with no private sponsors, Brown has recently been impressed with the players’ commitment to the team.

“All of our training dollars come out of our pocket,” Brown said. “We have five people on this team who are all in … training … getting along …

“We are developing a strategy to get to the next level.”

A career woman with a family, Greely is one of the “rookies” Brown expects to consistently carry the United States into the medal round.

“I think her future on the team will be long term,” Brown said. “She has all the things going for her. The sport is difficult to learn, but she is coachable.”

Over the past two seasons, Greely has developed into a lead shooter. Like a lead-off batter in baseball, Greely’s lead stones at the world championships will set the stage for her teammates.

“She has picked up the game really fast,” said Joseph, the second shooter. “The lead and second is very critical and she’s pretty good at setting the table.

“I have confidence in her.”

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