Curling alive and well on Cape Cod, thanks to Winter Olympics and a local club
The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are entering the final weekend, and one of the surprise popular competitions has a local connection.
We’re talking about curling, the game with rocks and brooms that’s played on ice.
I visited the Cape Cod Curling Club, and learned about the club’s Olympic pedigree.
In the 2018 Olympics against Sweden, the USA men's curling team made a tremendous shot that basically gave them the gold medal—the first time ever for the U.S. in curling. It was a moment that capped off an exciting and well-televised tournament for the men's team.
But maybe more important for our story, the moment started a kind of curling craze across the country.
"It was way more advertised than it used to be," said Eric Robillard, a curler from the Cape who saw that excitement for the sport grow here locally after 2018. He said it's just one of those sports that makes people go, "Whoa!" when they see it.
For one thing, Robillard said, curlers don’t look like the typical Olympic athlete.
“So this is one of the sports that you don’t have to have any physique at all—at all," said Robillard. "Even if you have a hip replacement or are 96 years old, you can still curl.”
And then there’s the peculiarity of how the game is played. It's like shuffleboard on ice, and there’s a lot yelling. And sweeping.
But you also need a place to play. Enter the Cape Cod Curling Club in Falmouth.
The inside of the club feels like a living room rather than an athletic facility. There’s wall-to-wall carpeting, leather couches, and of course a bar in the corner.
And then there’s the playing arena: a 150-foot long sheet of ice.
On a recent Thursday, there were plenty of active curlers. Robillard said that membership at the club grew substantially, to about 160 members, following the excitement from the 2018 Olympics.
But with COVID hitting two years ago, participation in Falmouth dropped off and momentum slowed.
Recently, to try and bring that momentum back, the Club hosted a media day, when I found it’s hard to hold a mic and curl at the same time.
The object of curling is to get as many of your 40-pound “rocks” to slide to a stop in the center of a bulls-eye 50 yards away.
"You see it on TV, and you’re like. 'I could easily do that,'" said curler Meghan Lino. "But then you get out there and it’s a little more challenging. You have to worry about the speed you throw, the line that you throw it on.”
Lino started curling at the club in 2008. “It’s chess on ice," she said, her passion evident. "You have to be one step ahead of the other person.”
Players can get creative and try things like knocking their opponent’s rocks out of the way.
But more than just games, what has kept the Falmouth club going for 5 decades is the camaraderie among players.
For Lino, who is in a wheelchair, that camaraderie from curling was life changing.
"Once I found curling, I came out of my shell," she said.
About 15 years ago, she was unemployed and living in Falmouth, when a friend encouraged her to try the sport. The club had recently installed a wheel-chair accessible ramp onto the ice.
“I was hooked from the first rock I threw," she said.
6 years later, she was competing at the Paralympics in 2014; and then again in 2018 in South Korea.
Now she has friends across the world, and she has the club in Falmouth where she can curl.
“It’s made my life a thousand times better," she said. "And I never would have thought this for my life in the past.”
With the 2022 Olympics heading into the final weekend, the USA men’s team made the final four, but lost in the first round against Great Britain. And then to Canada in the bronze medal game.
But you can bet that in Falmouth, at the Curling Club, they’ll either be gathered around the bar taking in the gold medal match, or out on the ice hurling a few rocks.