This weekend, young curlers from five states will gather at the Black Swamp Curling Center for the Great Lakes Curling Association’s Under-18 Regional Championships. It’s one of the purest displays of individual skill and trusting teamwork you’ll ever see.
My youngest will be competing. Over the past two years of developing an interest in curling from God-knows-where, he’s been part of the curling center’s truly excellent youth program.
After two years of long winter afternoons watching young people curl, I don’t fully understand the sport. What I do understand is this: If you can truly master your balance, you effortlessly glide, and your stone goes where you want it.
If you don’t master your balance, best case is you fall over in front of everyone. Worst case is you crack open your chin on the ice and get hurt.
Find balance, you glide. Lose balance, you fall.
As I’ve heard Addison Hollands and the other coaches repeatedly talk to the kids about balance and drill them on balance, the message has finally started sinking into my old head, too. And I’m coming around to the idea that life is a lot like curling.
When you’re curling, you can’t necessarily see the target at which you’re aiming. You need a skip, the person standing down at the other end helping you know where to throw.
We all need that, right? A person, maybe a couple people in our lives, who we trust completely to help us hit the goals we can’t always see. When you get cancer, you’d better be darn sure your oncologist is your skip. I can’t clearly see where this disease is heading; can’t figure out the geometry of these shots. I’m trusting him to put the broom in the right place.
Then, you’ve got to actually make the shot he’s calling. And that’s where you’ve got to find balance.
This is something I really suck at. I think a lot of us do in today’s world. I’m really good at jumping completely into something. Even as a kid, I could completely lose a day if I got really into a book. Time disappeared. It remained that way for much of my life — throwing myself into one activity, club, hobby and then sequentially throwing myself into the next.
For a few bright, shining years after my cancer diagnosis, I seemed to find balance between health, work, family and faith. Then the past couple years, my balance has wobbled. A couple curveballs in my cancer treatment, the loss of my dad and some challenges finding the energy I used to tap into at work — and I find myself slipping on the ice, over and over.
In the past few months, I feel like I’m finding that balance again. I’m trying to say no to things that tip the balance one way or another; I’m trying to recommit to things that I’ve let slip. I want to feel that glide again. And when I release that rock…
I’m gonna need sweepers. For casual curling fans, this is probably the funniest part of the game to watch on television. People speedwalking down ice, furiously scrubbing with glorified Swiffers — come on, what’s not funny about that?
In the game, though, the sweeps are performing a critical task: Speed up, and melt the surface of the ice just enough to create less friction between the stone and ice — help the thrower get the distance they need to hit their target. Slow down, and let the friction act to bring your shot up short when necessary.
Maybe these are the hardest people to find in our lives — the people who we trust to handle things once we let go. And maybe it’s not so hard to find them. It’s just hard for us to give up control and believe things will be OK.
The final lesson I’ve learned from watching curling is that, at the end of it all, it’s important to have a beer with your team. No analogy necessary there. Sometimes at the end of a day, you just need to kick back with your team.
So happy holidays, dear readers. May you find balance, and glide into the new year with your team.