HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
In her mind’s eye, Ottawa’s Rachel Homan could see a stream of light at the end of the curling tunnel. A day later, Curling Canada hit the switch and there was brilliant light, smothering this season of curling darkness.
Homan’s rink, which usually starts training in July and prefers a busy competitive season, has been left in the hack for the past nine months because of varying COVID-19 protocols. But in an interview on Monday, she was hopeful.
“It’s looking pretty good. The provincial association (Alberta) has come on board. They’re trying to iron out the details. Nothing is firm at this point for anyone. They’re figuring out putting on nationals. Time will tell,” she said.
On Tuesday, Homan, her teammates and the Canadian curling community breathed a sigh of relief and smiled. Curling Canada announced a condensed Season of Champions is scheduled to be staged in a Hub City environment in Calgary.
The 2021 dates for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Tim Hortons Brier, the respective Canadian women’s and men’s championships, will be determined at a later date. Nationals will be held without fans at the 3,500-seat Markin MacPhail Centre.
“That would be great. It would definitely be a challenge. We’ve just been practising and no games. Nationals may look different. Maybe not as high quality or maybe not. It’s like riding a bike,” said Homan, a 5-time Ontario women’s champion.
The world men’s curling championship, which was slated to be staged in TD Place Arena at Lansdowne Park, also is scheduled to move into the Calgary sports centre at WinSports Canada Olympic Park. Ottawa will stage a future Curling Canada competition.
The last time Team Homan gathered and played was at the 2020 Scotties in Moose Jaw, SK, where it lost in the final 8-7 to Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson. When the global pandemic landed, curling, like other sports and activities, stopped.
“Things didn’t go well at all,” Homan said about this season. Competitions were cancelled. Some smaller bonspiels were held, when moved to safer cities. One competition started, but was cancelled, after the 1st round. Practice ice was scarce.
Homan’s Monday optimism was realistically balanced by some uncertainty. “We take it as it comes. It would be nice to go back to what we’re used to, but we don’t seem headed that way. It’s wait and see. The whole world is wait and see.”
Team Homan, the 2017 world and 3x Canadian champion, has been careful trying to play this season with Homan and lead Joanne Courtney (both young moms) based in Edmonton, newly acquired second Sarah Wilkes in Calgary and Emma Miskew in Ottawa.
Putting health and safety before sport, Team Homan registered for the Okotoks Ladies Classic because it was in Alberta. The team was excited, but knew more health restrictions could be introduced at any moment. They were right.
“We thought we could get through it,” said Homan, who played one match, a 7-1 win over Jennifer Jones, before the competition was cancelled. And with Alberta’s positive COVID-19 numbers climbing, Homan’s next four competitions were shut down.
“It was great to be on the ice, great to have competition. It was still short. It was tough. We turned around and went back home, where there was no ice. We couldn’t practice as a team. Definitely a challenge to figure out what’s right to do.”
But life without curling hasn’t been all that bad for Homan, who has earned her BA in education and is now a supply teacher in Edmonton’s elementary and secondary system. And she’s also pregnant, expecting her second child in April.
“I had a small (teaching) contract and then curling started. Teaching took a back seat. I thought things would open up (for curling), but then it shut down,” she added. “COVID dictated that for us. Sometimes we were on the ice for a week.”
Homan, whose son Ryatt is 18 months old, likely will be in her third trimester when the Scotties Tournament of Hearts is scheduled to unfold in Calgary. But she’s optimistic everything will play out well as a mother-to-be and as a skip.
“I hope so. I was able to do it the last time. Time will tell,” Homan said.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.