FALMOUTH — On opening night of the 45th annual Summerspiel curling tournament Thursday, curlers from all over the world mingled over food and drinks at the Cape Cod Curling Club. Although this might seem like unusually friendly behavior for athletes who will be competing against each other for the next three weeks, Russ Lemcke said the camaraderie was all part of the sport.
"One of our members says that she's not sure if curling is an athletic sport with a high social context or a social gathering that's very intensive in sport," Lemcke said.
Summerspiel runs until July 27 at the Cape Cod Curling Club, 37 Highfield Drive, Falmouth.
- Tournaments will start at 8:30 a.m., usually ending at around 6 p.m. but sometimes going later.
- There is no admission charge, and the public is encouraged to attend.
Lemcke is a main organizer for Summerspiel, an event that, with 450 participants, is believed to be the largest off-season curling tournament in the world. Lemcke is a veteran to the sport, curling since he was a child in Saskatchewan, Canada. He has been involved in the Cape Cod Curling Club for more than 40 years and will be competing in both the men's and mixed bonspiels, or tourneys.
Curling is like shuffleboard on ice — although it is also called chess on ice — with players sliding heavy polished granite stones, or rocks, toward a circular target. Sweepers accompany the stone as it slides along, using brooms to alter the state of the ice in front of it and determine its placement.
Summerspiel is divided into five smaller "bonspiels" or curling tournaments, which consist of mixed, men's, women's, juniors and wheelchair competitions, according to Lemcke. Curlers range in age from 8 to 80.
Although skills range from beginner to Olympic level, the core of the tournament isn't about winners and losers but rather making new friends and having fun doing it, he said.
"The interesting thing about curling is that, after it's done, you shake hands with your opponents and then the winners buy the losers a refreshment," Lemcke said.
Spots in the off-season tournament are so highly coveted that Jane Renton and her husband, Mike, of Brampton, Ontario, went to extreme measures to compete in their first Summerspiel six tournaments ago.
"I just sent the club a blank check and said put whatever amount it takes for us to compete," Jane Renton said.
The club filled out the check, for the standard amount, and registered the Rentons. They have competed in Summerspiel every year since.
"The people here are spectacular," Mike Renton said. "They treat you really well. That's why we come back."
Curlers travel from different parts of the United States, as well as countries such as Canada, Scotland and Russia to compete. While all competitors are excited to give it their all on the ice, there is a social aspect to the sport that keeps curlers coming back to Summerspiel year after year.
"Our club has a reputation as one of the most welcoming clubs out there," Cape Cod Curling Club president Steve O'Neil said.
For Paralympic curler Meghan Lino, of East Falmouth, competing in Summerspiel's wheelchair division is an opportunity to reconnect with the club that started her athletic career. Lino did not start curling until 2009, when she was introduced to the sport at a Cape Cod Curling Club charity event.
"I was hooked from the first rock I threw," Lino said.
Since then, Lino has competed on national and global levels, traveling all over Canada and Europe. She was a member of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Team, which placed fifth out of 10 teams. Lino is one of two Paralympic curlers from Cape Cod; the other is David Palmer of Mashpee.
Without curling, Lino is unsure where she would be. The sport gave her an opportunity to step out of her comfort zone and see the world. "I've always been kind of a social butterfly, but it gave me the push I needed," Lino said. "It changed my life, big time."