Curling Elite Amateur Sport

HIGH ACHIEVERS: World-champion curler Craig Savill battling cancer a second time

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

When the COVID-19 pandemic stormed across Canada, forcing sports groups to post signs like ‘Postponed,’ ‘Closed,’ and ‘Cancelled,’ curling was one of the victims. But Curling Canada thought, fought and brought.

Despite the cancellation of hundreds of bonspiels, Curling Canada carefully developed a plan to save a significant part of the curling season by creating a virus-free environment in Calgary called Hub City to stage seven major championships.

Former high-performance curler Craig Savill of Manotick couldn’t have been happier watching the Scotties, the Brier and the Canadian mixed doubles and is anxiously awaiting the men’s and women’s world championships and two Grand Slams.

Craig Savill. File photo

A four-time world champion and now an international coach, Savill would have been attracted to those magnetic moments anyway. But this year, Savill really needs to watch his game as much as possible. His cancer has returned.

Six years after learning he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the start of the 2015-16 season, Savill, 42, was told in February the same blood cancer had again attacked his lymphatic system, which is part of his immune system.

Medical scans and biopsies were done at the Ottawa Hospital General Campus, Dr. Isabelle Bence-Bruckler developed a game plan and treatments are underway. And his self-prescribed, at-home curling remedy also has been effective.

“I’ve been watching a ton of curling. It has been a blessing,” said an upbeat Savill during a phone interview this week. “And there’s curling for another couple of months.” The joy and excitement was evident in Savill’s voice.


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“I’m so happy for (Kerri) Einarson, who won the Scotties. But it was heartbreaking when there was no world championship. One of the greatest gifts for an athlete is to wear the Maple Leaf.”

But in early March, the World Curling Federation liked how the curling was safely presented in the WinSport Arena at Canada Olympic Park and moved the postponed world women’s championship to Calgary from Schaffhausen, Switzerland.

“I was heartbroken it (cancer) had come back,” a deflated Savill added. “I prepared myself that it would be really good. It’s devastating to go through the treatments and put my family through this again.”

But he also was fortunate to be able to visit Dr. Bence-Bruckler to talk about the swelling and have a scan. After five years of being cancer free, Dr. Bence-Bruckler was about to release Savill from her care.

“It was nice that I had access to my oncologist to get a scan. If I had to start with my GP, that process could have taken months or a year,” said Savill, won won world junior titles in 1998 and 1999 for the Ottawa Curling Club rink skipped by John Morris.

Savill went through six months of chemotherapy to confront his cancer in 2015, but he’s facing a different treatment plan and schedule this time. Savill had his first treatment, which lasted four hours, on March 18.

His schedule calls for treatments on Day 1 (four hours) and Day 8 (90 minutes), which will be followed by a week off. That is considered one cycle and he will experience three cycles.

The three- to four-month process will end with Savill having some of his stem cells harvested, six straight days of chemotherapy and then having his stem cells returned to him.

“I’m really tired,” admitted Savill, who works reduced hours as a Sun Life advisor. “I have spurts of energy for an hour and then I hit a wall. The first week was tough, but this week is better.”

Meditation also is helpful. As Savill goes one-on-one again with cancer, he’s thankful for the help given to his family – wife Karen Cumberland and children Aiden and Elsa. Family and friends have and are continuing to donate meals through http://www.mealtrain.com.

“We’ve had enormous support from family and friends and elsewhere across the country. It’s hard to get good meals when so much of the time is on me. It’s a chance for people to help out and meals help out,” he said.

Once Savill is finished his treatments and feeling better, he plans to resume coaching the Czech Republic’s national men’s team skipped by Lukas Klima and help them qualify for the 2022 Olympics and world championships.

At the 2020 world championship qualification tournament in Finland, Savill watched the European champions finish in fifth place at 3-4 and miss the playoffs. Only the top two countries advanced to the worlds, which were cancelled because of the pandemic.

“I’m hoping the European championships will happen in 2022. We’ll have one tournament to get into the Olympics,” said Savill, who is familiar with handling stress, whether on the ice or dealing with cancer.

“My curling career has helped me,” he added. “I’ve worked with sports psychologists and talked about mindfulness, knowing what to do in a stressful situation, resetting and refocusing.”

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 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 martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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