Ottawa curlers ‘would not even be curling’ if not for the home team behind Team Homan
By Dan Plouffe
She’s well-known for delivering when it matters most. She can pull out the circus shots when her team’s in a jam. Nerves of steel are ingrained in her reputation.
Rachel Homan is likely to face a pressure-filled moment or two when she skips her hometown Ottawa Curling Club rink into the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic curling team trials Dec. 2-10 at Canadian Tire. But high stakes stress has been part of her curling DNA literally from the start.
As a 4-and-a-half-year-old, Rachel desperately wanted to follow in the footsteps of older brother Mark, 10 years her senior, and get out on the ice at the Rideau Curling Club.
The trouble was, the Little Rocks program only started at age 7 at the time. But the program director did take special note of one young girl’s eagerness while talking to her mom.
“She said, ‘Well, does (Rachel) want to curl?’ And I said, ‘Oh ya, she’s dying to get out there,’” recounts Rachel’s mother, Cathy. “So she said, ‘Well, if she can throw the rock to the end, she can curl.’”
So, with her season and her career on the line, “Sure enough, Rachel went out there and hit the house,” smiles Cathy. “And that was that.”
A couple years later and Rachel was curling every Sunday at noon at the Navan Curling Club.
“One day, she came to me and said, ‘OK, Mom, from now on, we have to come for 11.’ And I said, ‘No honey, it’s at 12.’ And she said, ‘No, there is practice ice at 11, so I want to come.’
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“I said, ‘I don’t know honey, we’ll have to check.’ And she said, ‘No, I already talked to Ken’ – he was the manager – ‘and he said if I want to come at 11, I can come and practice,’” recalls Cathy, speaking from the viewing lounge at the Ottawa Curling Club after serving breakfast for the young curlers attending at the Team Homan Curling Camp, as her daughter snuck in a few extra practice repetitions, alone on the ice.
“That was my life from then on,” Cathy continues. “She was managing herself right from the beginning, and I said, ‘OK, we’re in for a long run with this.’”
THE INSEPARABLE PAIR
Emma Miskew got her start in curling with the same program at the Rideau and became similarly enthralled with the game, soon joining Westboro’s Granite Curling Club so she could play both Saturday and Sunday.
Her father, Art, made the fateful phone call to Craig Homan when their girls were 12. He asked if they wanted to put together a team for the local Junior SuperSpiel qualifier, an event that draws many of the best under-20 teams from around the world.
“It was just for fun, and we thought they were going to get killed,” details Craig, who kept Art – away at a coaching course – updated on the team’s progress. “I remember calling Art, and I said, ‘They lost the first game pretty badly, but I think they can win an end in the next game.’”
The makeshift group of preteens wound up doing much more, instead winning their match outright and eventually qualifying for the big tourney. But having the young girls play in the SuperSpiel posed a pair of parental concerns.
“A), the games were past their bedtime. And B), it was Halloween and they weren’t able to go out trick-or-treating,” notes Craig, later “shocked” once again to see the girls play a close game against the Swiss junior national team at the SuperSpiel. “But that was probably my favourite memory from when they were kids – just realizing they weren’t bad.”
Four consecutive Ontario Bantam titles later followed from 2003 to 2006, and then a 2007 Canada Winter Games gold medal. The next season when Rachel downed Jennifer Jones for her first World Curling Tour event title in London, Ont., Craig got the hint that stardom may well await.
“At 12 years old, they beat all the 20-year-olds. And then at 18, they beat the top team in the world twice in 2 days. That was pretty cool,” signals Craig, whose father began the family’s curling tradition, playing the sport and throughout Canada as a member of the air force.
‘WOULDN’T BE WHERE WE ARE TODAY’ WITHOUT FAMILY
Family involvement and support has been a constant theme in each of the Team Homan players’ careers.
“I wouldn’t even be curling if it wasn’t for my parents,” underlines Emma, whose father was a 1975 Canada Winter Games competitor for Quebec. “It was my dad who brought me out before I even knew what it was.”
The Brookfield High School grad thanks her dad for passing on his competitive drive, athleticism, and, simply, a good memory. Her mom, Jeannie, modelled a caring and nurturing nature – helpful in a team setting.
“They were fully supportive from the start,” indicates Emma, Team Homan’s third. “As any parent knows, there’s a big financial contribution to help your kids start off in sport. We didn’t have sponsors for years when we started. We’d take trips all around Ontario and Quebec to compete and to learn as a team and grow as a team. Our parents were paying for all of that themselves.
“If I hadn’t been able to experience that, I don’t know if I would have had that big drive to want to compete and get to an elite level.
“They came to everything. They felt our losses just as hard as we did, if not harder, and they rejoice in our wins.
“My dad had just came to pick up my brother Ben, who was helping at our camp. We were showing some game tape, so my dad watched us win the Scotties, and when he saw the winning shot, I could see he was standing there crying. My mom was like, ‘Every time he sees it, he just starts crying.’
“We know they’re super proud, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”
‘CURLING BUILDS CHARACTER’
Lisa Weagle remembers the waterworks similarly came out in full force for her when she saw her family moments after winning the 2013 national championship.
“It was really special to have them there,” reflects the Nepean High School grad. “When we won our first Scotties in Kingston, to walk down the sheet and look up in the stands and see them brought a little tear to my eye.”
Lisa began curling a year after her parents joined the Granite – her mother, Brenda Chapman, eager to get her family into the sport she enjoyed as a child.
“It brings you closer together as a family,” highlights Brenda, who grew up roughly near Thunder Bay, with the Terrace Bay Curling Club serving as a focal point of her small town. “In curling, you have to learn to lose well, and win graciously. It builds a lot of character, and opens a lot of those discussions about those qualities that are important in sport, and in life.”
With that cause in mind, it seemed like a great idea to create a Team Weagle one year. Her teenage daughters were easily ready for the challenge of a local adult league – Lisa was an Ontario Bantam champion in 2000 with Lee Merklinger, and younger sister Julia, once upon a time, played alongside Emma Miskew against Rachel Homan in the local Little Rocks championship, staged on Ottawa Civic Centre ice for the 2001 Brier.
But the dream team was a complete bust.
“It was horrible,” recalls Lisa, the Team Weagle skip – “not a good position for me,” smirks the all-star lead.
“We were all so competitive. We’ll never do it again,” adds Lisa, whose father, Ted, was particularly opposed to a second season since he always had to fork out for their victorious opponents’ first round of drinks (a curling tradition).
“He says it was a very expensive year,” smiles Lisa, now 32 and a member of Team Homan since 2010 when previous lead Lynn Kreviazuk joined another team for her final year as a junior.
FAMILY KNOWS BEST SACRIFICES MADE TO REACH FOR THE TOP
The local curling community has backed the team through thick and thin, the Homan players attest, though no one quite understands the effort the group has put in like their families.
That included balancing university studies (Emma in engineering at Carleton, Rachel in human kinetics and Lisa in communications at uOttawa) and later jobs while working to rise to the top of the curling world. There was practice and physical training, organizing travel and tournament logistics, managing their time, and finding sponsors.
“Sometimes Emma would come off an airplane and rush to hand in a paper or do a presentation,” recalls Art, noting that “it’s by making all those sacrifices” that they’ve managed to excel.
“The parents, the brothers, the sisters, the cousins, the aunts and uncles have been there from the very, very beginning,” highlights Jeannie, proud to see that the girls always give back to their sport, and show gratitude for the support they’ve received (though the families feel reciprocally blessed to have experienced so many “magical” moments along the way, she adds).
“They owe us nothing, I tell you,” echoes Craig. “To be on this journey, to follow what they’ve done, the high highs, the low lows – we’re just so happy to be a part of this, and so proud of what the girls have done. If there’s more, that’s great. If there isn’t, you can’t ask for anything more. We’ve lived a full lifetime of thrills.”
“It’s really nerve-racking to watch for us parents. You kind of live and die with every shot,” Brenda outlines. “You can sweat off a few pounds at one of these big events.”
RARRIN’ FOR THE ROAR
The big show will see Team Homan face off against Canada’s 8 best women’s teams for a single Olympic berth. They’ll play each one in a round robin format, followed by playoffs on the Dec. 9-10 weekend.
Team Homan’s results so far this season have been somewhat lukewarm by their standards – winners of 2 World Curling Tour events, but no better than quarter-finalists in 3 Pinty’s Grand Slam competitions.
That’s not dissimilar to 2016-2017, however, when they turned a slow start into provincial, national and world titles. Last season provided the model for this one, including less emphasis on early competition and more focus on rest and recovery, and practice, in order to peak for the trials.
“We developed a schedule for the year that we’ve put a lot of thought into,” explains second Joanne Courtney, highlighting the value of training time together to help with communication and team dynamics. “We found last year that was what really helped us, so come the trials, we’ll be rarrin’ to go. We’re going to embrace every part of it.”
Joanne, the newest member of Team Homan, completes the lineup alongside the 3 Ottawa natives. The sweeping sensation from Edmonton was added at the start of the Olympic quadrennial in place of 2-time Scotties champion Alison Kreviazuk, who moved to Sweden in late 2014.
She too was drawn into curling by family, initially wanting to copy her older brother David. Years later, David was there to provide a warm welcome, and a place to stay in town, when Joanne joined the Ottawa crew, having moved to the nation’s capital several years earlier himself.
The family feel quickly extended to her new teammates as well.
“Joanne’s my sister. We’re all like sisters,” Lisa indicates. “One of the great things about our team is that we always really get along and like each other. That’s what makes this so much more fun. We get to share this with girls we’ve become so close with.”
‘GRATEFUL TO SHARE THE EXPERIENCE’ WITH OTTAWA SUPPORTERS
Aside from their reigning world champion status, there are several other positive omens for Team Homan heading into the Roar of the Rings.
There is their perfect record as the home team in national competition. They won their first and most recent senior Canadian crowns playing as Team Ontario in Kingston and St. Catharines, while they were also effectively the home team when they won Scotties title #2 down the road in Montreal.
And Team Homan is also perfect in their second appearance at major championships. They lost the national junior final to Kaitlyn Lawes the year before they won it. They won the Scotties on their second try. And their second worlds was golden. Third-place finishers at the Sochi 2014 trials, this will be Team Homan’s second Roar.
Given the great pressure of entering the Roar as a favourite, Team Homan could perhaps be forgiven for wishing they didn’t have to add the “hometown hope” label on top of it, but the skipper says there is absolutely no part of her that wants to live those big moments anywhere but here.
“Not at all,” Rachel underlines. “We’re just so lucky that the trials are in our hometown. We’re so fortunate to be able to play in front of all our friends and family. They’ve helped support us and our dreams to see how far we could go in the sport. We are so grateful to share the experience and journey with them.”
Read more about Ottawa’s Olympic Hopefuls here.