Sunday, February 23, 2014

Curling Class

“I love watching the Winter Olympics,” I said sitting on the sofa sipping a blueberry smoothie.
“Is that guy a referee?” Mr. Wonderful said indicating a man on TV wearing crazy-patterned pants. 
“He’s an athlete.”
“For what sport?”
“That’s not a sport.”

The Winter Olympics is an exciting time: there are tense hockey games, intense figure skating competitions and countless relaxed discussions over beer of how curling is not a sport. The dissenters’ proof: the pants. They contend that no sport on earth condones wearing such colorful pants. But come now: if the Olympic Committee decided that sliding a 42-pound granite rock across ice is a sport, then it’s a sport… Kind of.

As far as curling goes, I was one of the supporters of the sport and Mr. Wonderful, well, he was one of the dissenters. To settle our “is it a sport or isn’t it” discussion I signed us up for a curling how-to class. Mr. Wonderful was nonplussed.

“Why?” he said 
“Because it will be fun.”
Whose idea of fun?”

We brought a friend to be an impartial third party representative and off we went to the ice. I live in Southern California and last year we had 736 days of sun; in short, this area of the world hasn’t seen ice since the Pleistocene Epoch. Unless of course you count my smoothie, homemade lemonade or gin and tonic on the rocks. Nevertheless this great City of the Angels has pebble ice, a rink and several curling leagues.

Our curling instructor greeted us—and for the record she was not wearing a pair of crazy-patterned pants—instead she wore a crazy-patterned skirt. After lots of talk about what constitutes a team (four people); what to call the team captain ("The Skip"); and how to push a broom (it’s called “sweeping”), we were allowed to get into position and push the curling stone around on the ice. FYI: 42 pounds of granite slides pretty well on ice. But the trick is not to slide the stone in a straight line from A to B but to make it curl around and around and around and still go in a straight line so that it lands in a bullseye circle at the other end of the rink.

Let me tell you, it’s harder than it looks.

Another thing about curling, the curler slides over the ice and the force of the human body in motion propels the curling stone forward. But you can’t just slide with two legs over the ice. Oh, no! you have to crouch into a starting block, push off with your foot and slide across the ice with one knee bent and the other leg dragging on the ice in a scene reminiscent of Bambi swirling out of control on the frozen lake.

So, curling’s harder than it looks.

Finally once you have the curling and the slide down, you have to carry a broom that you will never use. Yes, as you’re sliding across the ice dragging half your body behind you and pushing a rock 1/3 your body weight, you have to hold a broom in your other hand like a drum majorette in the college marching band during the halftime show at the Rose Bowl. Can you say multitasking?

This sport is way harder than it looks!

Our friend threw a curling stone and Mr. Wonderful and I swept a warm, flat path for the stone to make it to the circle area to score a point. Then while Mr. Wonderful and our friend swept, I threw a stone. The curling coach raved about my form, how I slid across the ice dragging a leg and balancing a broom with the greatest of ease. People stopped, stared and applauded the beauty of my form. Already I loved this sport! 

There was just one little, itty-bitty problem: my stone didn’t make it to the bullseye to score a point. In fact it didn’t even make it to the general vicinity of scoring a point. Actually when I threw my stone, it flew backwards and out the rink’s front door. Which meant that after I threw the stone it was farther way from the scoring target than before I’d touched it. What idiot said this was a sport?! 

Then it was Mr. Wonderful’s turn. He folded himself awkwardly into the minuscule starting block, he pushed off with a wobble looking like he would topple over any moment like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and his face was marked with a grimace that revealed how much pain his knees were in. I could hear him now berating the sport of curli—

Then something incredible happened: he let go of his curling stone and it slid forward toward the scoring target all the while it was curling around and around and around. He was doing it! His stone approached the wide scoring circle then slowed to a stop right in the middle of the bullseye! He scored! I leaped up and gave him high five. He nodded, a slight lift affecting his lips not a full fledged smile, mind you, but a tiny, partial one. 

Then our threesome played the other team and—incredibly!—Mr. Wonderful did the same thing all over! He scored. Again and again! I also threw some more stones and did the same thing of exhibiting beautiful form and making lousy—okay, zero!—scored points. Through it all we laughed and marveled at Mr. Wonderful’s ungraceful way of getting the stone from his grip to the target’s bullseye. In the end he scored all of our team’s points and single handedly crushed the competition. In short, he was wonderful! After the game we caught our breath on the ice.

“You were right,” Mr. Wonderful said. “This is athletic and challenging—curling is a sport.” Our friend nodded in agreement. 
“Thank you,” I said smiling at them having finally seen things my way.
“You know, I really liked this,” Mr Wonderful said jutting his chin toward the ice and the curling stones.
“We won thanks to you,” I said giving him a fist bump.
“I mean, let’s do this again tomorrow,” Mr. Wonderful said grinning.
“Why?” I said 
“Because it was so fun.”
“Uh, whose idea of fun?”

In sports, like life, it's not what you look like, it's who scores the most points. Clearly scoring and winning had made a curling fan of Mr. Wonderful. Now he liked it because he excelled at it. Hmmm… Maybe I should lobby the Olympic Committee for the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro to make P├ętanque an Olympic sport…!