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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Countdown to Sochi: Wheelchair curling’s Sonja Gaudet

Canada’s two-time Paralympic gold medallist goes for a three-peat

by Ainsley Doty, Sportsnet

Gaudet competes in a round robin game against Great Britain at the Vancouver Paralympic Games. She eventually led Canada to gold. Photo credit: Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty images

When wheelchair curling was formalized in 2000, the World Curling Federation “decided that the game should be played as close to the regular game as possible.” As a result, the sheet length, the players’ positions, and the weight of the rock went unchanged, along with the game’s cerebral nature. Successful players must outmanoeuvre their opponents by drawing on both wit and strategy. No one knows this better than Team Canada’s Sonja Gaudet.

After a spinal injury in 1997 left her paralyzed “from the bra-line down,” Gaudet took up wheelchair curling as a way to stay active, social, and intellectually sharp. As she excelled and moved up in the sport, it soon became clear that she needed to refine her throwing technique.

In wheelchair curling, athletes throw stones from a fixed position without the help of sweepers, and Gaudet began to search for ways to exercise greater control over her delivery. “I needed something that allowed me to have more balance, more power, more stability when throwing the rock,” Gaudet explains. The answer was to modify a hand post—an anchor, of sorts—to suit her body and style of play.

“The post allowed me to sit up straighter, to throw way more weight when I needed to make a hit shot, and to just be more controlled and balanced throughout my delivery,” she says.

Gaudet won her first Paralympic gold medal at Turin 2006. Four years later, in her hometown of Vancouver, she added a second to her collection. After becoming the first wheelchair curler ever to be inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame, the laurels continued in 2013 when she won the World Wheelchair Curling Championship in Sochi. The victory marked her third world title and ranked Canada as first in the world.

Now, Sochi is calling her back. Playing lead, Gaudet, 47, will be joined by fellow world-title holders Jim Armstrong, Dennis Thiessen, Ina Forrest, and Mark Ideson. For the next 40 days, Gaudet and her team will physically and mentally prepare for their return to Russia.

“The most difficult challenge is the mindset,” Gaudet says of the time leading up to a world-class competition. “You have to have a lot of mental strength.”

Gaudet and Team Canada will open with a match against Great Britain on March 8.

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