Olympic curler shares her experience

Tuesday, Dec 13, 2016 06:00 am

By: Simon DucatelOlympic medallist Cheryl Bernard shares on Wednesday, Dec. 4 a moment with Sundre Junior Curling Club member McKenzie McElhinney.Olympic medallist Cheryl Bernard shares on Wednesday, Dec. 4 a moment with Sundre Junior Curling Club member McKenzie McElhinney.Noel West/MVP Staff

Despite retiring from professional curling following a silver medal win at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Cheryl Bernard remains passionate about sharing her love for the sport with the next generation of curlers.

“I’ve been lucky to play this game since I was eight,” she told the Round Up during an interview at Sundre’s curling rink while about 30 members of the junior club practised.

“To see kids having that opportunity, that’s a big deal to me,” she said.

“I love just seeing them interact — seeing them do well out there. They get so excited when they make a shot. They get so excited when they learn something new. For me, that’s a big part of it, is just seeing them succeed and have so much fun playing the game. That’s why I do it.”

Bernard could not refuse when her friend Derek Ralph, who recently relocated to Sundre, invited her to share her story with the local junior curlers. Although her schedule as a TSN curling commentator keeps her busy, Bernard said she aims to spend time with young curlers at every possible opportunity.

“This was nice, it’s close to home,” said the enthusiastic and friendly Calgary resident, adding she’s also been involved with curling camps that introduce children to the sport.

Junior curling programs are perhaps increasingly important during times of extended economic hardship. Curling is a lifelong and “very inexpensive sport,” compared with, for example, hockey or golf in terms of equipment and fees, she said.

“You look at the Olympics as well, and I think that drives kids when they see players stand on a podium. When the Olympics get close every four years, we get a new a surge of curlers going, ‘Oh, this is awesome!’”

Bernard’s passion for curling stems from the connections and networks that are established along the way.

“It’s the teamwork — it’s getting to interact with people,” she said when asked what she enjoys most about the sport.

“It’s about trying to be better. It’s about always improving. It’s about pushing yourself to do better and to work harder and see the success that comes because of that hard work.”

Playing with a team adds a dynamic element as well as a certain chemistry that keeps a player on his or her toes, she said.

“I could never play a solitary sport!”

She praised the Sundre junior curlers’ enthusiasm and interest during her visit, which included a slideshow presentation of her past experiences that featured her ascent to the 2010 Olympics.

“The kids were amazing. You never know with kids — they could be quiet and never ask a question, but these guys were so into it, and had so many great questions.”

After passing her silver medal around as well as signing some autographs, Bernard hit the ice to offer some tips and pointers to the young aspiring curlers.

“The (Sundre Junior Curling) club gave me a gift for coming here, and my gift is just to be able to see the looks on their faces,” she said.

The Olympic medallist’s visit seems to have left an impression on the junior curlers.

“I just want to be a champion like her,” said Caleb Knelsen, who lives near Bergen, adding that hearing about Bernard’s experience was a lot of fun.

“It was really cool,” said Hayden Fee. “I got to hold the medal, and she showed us some pretty cool slides from the Olympics.”

Having never before held an Olympic medal, Fee admitted the experience made him wonder what it would be like to perhaps one day earn his own. This is his third year playing the sport, and Fee said he enjoys staying off the couch to curl while spending time with friends.