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There’s no national television and few fans outside of family and friends have any real interest in the results.
It’s the third annual edition of Curling Canada’s U-18 Nationals currently being held at the Glen Allan Recreation Complex in Sherwood Park, and what it may lack in some ways it definitely makes up in another.
It leads all Curling Canada’s Season of Champions events when it comes to human-interest stories.
The U-18 Nationals features a one-armed curler, a blind-in-one-eye, coluorblind-in-the-other competitor and a young man who is competing despite having had three open-heart surgeries.
The attraction is supposed to be the chance to watch Brier and Scotties stars of the future, but Carly Smith of New Brunswick, Alex McDonah of Nova Scotia 1 and Aden Kavanaugh of Nova Scotia 2 have been stealing the show to anybody in the know. Which, the way these kids operate, is next to nobody.
Let’s start with Smith.
In her case, you can see the 15-year-old third only has one arm when she throws a rock. She doesn’t have a broom in her other hand for balance. That’s not easy.
“I was born missing my left arm above the elbow, so I’ve always had good balance because my arm is missing. I’ve had to balance for everything. It was just natural for me.”
She wears a prosthetic arm provided by War Amps that is shorter than her normal arm and is designed with a hole in it to secure a curling broom to be able to sweep.
“The broom goes in pretty easily and comes out pretty easily but there’s no way it would come out while I’m sweeping. It locks in and the only way it’s going to come out is if I push the button to unlock it.”
She describes it as her curling arm. She has another longer sports arm for biking, kayaking, track and soccer. The War Amps cover the expenses for my arms because they are very expensive.”
Carly curls with Melodie Forsythe, Venessa Roy and her sister, Caylee, who is 12.
“We’ve been curling as a team for four years and this is our second U-18 Nationals. We practise a lot. My teammates don’t see me any different. They treat me a if I have two arms and if I ever asked them for help, they’d say ‘No, you can do it yourself.’ ”
McDonah is the kid who is blind in one eye and colourblind in the other.
“Actually, colourblind in both eyes, just blind in this one,” he said with a laugh. “When I was born, I guess my optic nerve was turned off, basically. I was born with a lazy eye in a funny shape and all sorts of weird things. Growing up, I was always going to hospitals for check-ups. I had surgery on it so now it won’t cross even if I tried. I had an eye patch on from the time I was three until I was nine. But when I took it off, it basically just stopped working again,” said the 18-year-old second on a team with Adam McEachren, Owen Purcell and Scott Weagle.
“I discovered how much I had to compensate by tightening up the ice on my in-turn and widening it up on my out-turn. When it comes to depth perception I rely a lot more on my stop watch.”
As for being colourblind, that isn’t a problem here this week. The rocks are red and yellow.
“Red and yellow isn’t so hard. But a lot of clubs have red and blue rocks and that’s really hard to distinguish for me being colourblind. It’s a matter of going down to the other end to make sure I know which rock is which.”
Having three open heart-surgeries is something else again.
“Well, I don’t remember the first one,” said Kavanaugh, a 16-year-old who plays lead and thus has to sweep a lot. “I was eight days old when I had the first one and I was turning four when I had the second one. I remember when I came out of the hospital after the second one that all I could do was watch TV. The 2006 Olympics were on. I watched Brad Gushue win the gold medal.
“I’d been told I couldn’t play hockey. But I asked my mom if I could do the curling. They checked with the cardiologist and he said ‘OK, go ahead.’”
Curling Canada has a Little Rocks program and he ended up on a team with Ethan Young, Kieran Mackintosh and Christopher Churchill, the same four guys who have stayed together since they were five years old to get here this year.
“I turned 13 and had my birthday in the hospital for the third open heart surgery, so I remember that one very well. I couldn’t play for six weeks after the surgery and there was a lot of pain. But I couldn’t wait to get back on the ice and start playing again. It’s been a journey. We’ve won four provincial championships together. My teammates are great. They treat me like a normal person.”
You get the idea. There are a lot of interesting kids curling up a storm at the U-18 Nationals in Sherwood Park. If you go, make sure you buy a program. It’ll be interesting in a decade to see if any of them turned out to be something special.
But in truth, a lot of them have turned out to be something special just to get here.
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019