LITTLETON, Colo. - I keep a crazy work schedule so I missed seeing many of the winter Olympics events, but I heard a lot of people talk about how they were captivated by curling.
Curling, really? I didn't know much about it, other than it looked more like a good social time rather than an Olympic sport. I'm not exactly a chiseled, graceful athlete, so I figured I'd give curling a try. Anyone can do it, right?
Since you need four people on a team, my husband came along to learn with me. We asked two of the top curlers in the state of Colorado to teach us. Pam Finch, a former member of the Women's National Curling Team, and her daughter, two-time Junior National Champ and 2002 Olympic qualifier, Kirsten Berger.
We met up at the Ice Ranch in Littleton, where the Denver Curling Club meets twice a week.
I know what curling is supposed to look like, but doing it is another thing.
Pam and Kirsten had us first do a couple of stretching exercises. Then we began our first ever curling lesson, starting with technique and using a sort of training wheel to hold onto. For you right-handers, basically you put your right foot on a starting block, and wear a slippery cover on your left foot.
The stone, which weighs 42 pounds, has a handle on it. Even though you might want to try lifting it like I did, you don't do that in curling. You just slide it along the ice, aiming for the "house" at the other end. The "house" is what they call the target at the other end of the sheet of ice, and the "button" is the circle in the middle. That's where you want your stone to end up, right on the "button."
Letting go of the stone for the first time was harder than I expected. It wasn't so much the pushing, it was the figuring out what do with the rest of my body. It takes hand-eye-leg coordination and aim. That didn't come naturally for me. My husband Mike had a much easier time of it.
It took me several tries to get the hang of it; I even fell on my face a few times. And even then, I knew I would need many more lessons to get the movements down, and there are not enough hours in the day for me.
I had always wondered about the sweepers. Can they really make a difference in your throw? I was skeptical. But Pam and Kirsten set me straight. You have to see the ice texture to understand. It's not smooth like you'd see on a skating rink. They actually give it a sort of pebbled texture. So the sweepers working in front a stone sort of warm up the ice and smooth it out so the stone can move. It was pretty impressive and those sweepers work hard! I left with a whole new appreciation for this Olympic sport.
What I really liked about curling is that anyone can do it, and plenty of people do in Colorado. You can be 6 or 60 and still have a great time. The Denver Curling Club meets two nights a week and they tell me after every round of Winter Olympic games, people call wanting to learn. Just make sure you go with a sense of humor! You can find out more information or sign up for "learn to curl" classes at the Denver Curling Club.