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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Spruce Grove club opens doors to wheelchair curlers


By Thomas Miller, Spruce Grove Examiner/Stony Plain Reporter

Warren Fleury lets a rock fly down the sheet in the Spruce Grove Curling Club’s first bonspiel, Sept. 27. - Thomas Miller, Reporter/Examiner
Warren Fleury lets a rock fly down the sheet in the Spruce Grove Curling Club’s first bonspiel, Sept. 27. - Thomas Miller, Reporter/Examiner
The Spruce Grove Curling Club’s first bonspiel of the year had a different look.

On Sept. 27, a pair of wheelchair curling teams rolled onto the ice for the first time.

Dwaine Schupac and Warren Fleury, a wheelchair curling team out of Jasper Place in Edmonton, said that though the facility wasn’t fully wheelchair accessible, there were ramps to get onto the ice and overall it worked for them.

Fleury said he got into wheelchair curling when the bumps and bruises of his old sport — wheelchair rugby — started to be a bit much for him.

“It was getting a little rough,” he said with a chuckle prior to their first game of the bonspiel. “So I was looking for something a little more mellow.”

Now Fleury curls competitively and hopes to head to nationals in Richmond, B.C. There’s just one team standing in his way.

“Our rival right now is Calgary,” said Fleury, who curls three times a week. “We have to beat Calgary for provincials to make the nationals. We haven’t beat them for a number of years in a row. This year is going to be different hopefully.”

Schupac, on the other hand, was just getting back into curling at the season-opening bonspiel.
He curled for nine years but decided to “shut it down” last year and rest.
He’s also taken to flying south in the wintertime, where he notes there isn’t as much curling as there is in Alberta.

There are a few key differences between wheelchair curling and able-bodied curling, but they’re mostly simple courtesies.

Because there were only two wheelchair teams in the Spruce Grove bonspiel over the weekend, they had to face able-bodied opponents in every game. Without the ability to sweep their rocks, they simply asked that their opponents not sweep their rocks out of the house.

And if they didn’t mind holding on to the back of their wheelchair while they shot, that’s helpful, too.
Wheelchair curlers line up at the hog line and slide their rocks down the ice with a stick.
The precision required, particularly without sweepers, is incredible.

Kim Harapchuk, Spruce Grove Curling Club manager, said it was amazing to see just in that first weekend how diverse and accessible a sport curling can be.

In their Friday night league, they had 10-year-olds playing on a team with their parents. The next day: wheelchair curling.

There’s also a seniors’ league, and Harapchuk has seen players as old as 92 in Spruce Grove.
“Curling is so versatile,” she said. “Young kids are in there with their families having a blast, learning the sport, getting some exercise, all the way to their grandparents playing with them, or if you’re handicapped. The game doesn’t change. I think that’s pretty amazing.”

Harapchuk said that after the success of this first bonspiel with wheelchair curlers that she would look into the potential to host them more often. “Both teams said, ‘Put us down for next year,’ ” she said.

“I think they were a bit hesitant (before the bonspiel). They have a league in Jasper Place … they said, ‘We can recruit more to come now that we know.’ I think that will be great.”

Those interested in learning the game, regardless of age or ability, can sign up for the new to curling league on Tuesday nights from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

“We want to see families coming together and juniors having fun getting into the sport, getting that competitive feel for it and adults who are afraid to get into it because they don’t have a team,” Harapchuk said, adding that this gives them the chance to get some experience under their belts in a non-competitive environment.

The league costs $100 and runs from November to February.

For more information call Kim Harapchuk at the Spruce Grove Curling Club at 780-962-3222780-962-3222.

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