HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
One skip has stepped back, folded her American-based curling team, returned to Ottawa and become a spare (alternate) for a notable Canadian rink.
Another skip with deep Ottawa roots has revamped her lineup for the 2022-23 season, relinquished her long-held reign at that position to a former rival skip and will now become a sweeper. But she’ll still throw the final rocks.
Wow. That’s a lot to digest and the curling season hasn’t even started in Canada.
Manotick Curling Club’s Jamie Sinclair, who has spent the past eight years curling for the Charlotte, North Carolina, Curling Association but was based in St. Paul, Minnesota, has agreed to be a spare for Winnipeg’s Chelsea Carey, who has regained membership in the Manitoba branch after stints in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Ottawa Curling Club’s Rachel Homan, one of Canada’s most successful women’s skips, has recruited Tracy Fleury, after long-time team member Joanne Courtney stepped away from competitive curling at the end of last season. In the process of finding a replacement, Fleury dissolved her team, which caught the eye of Team Homan.
The arrival of Fleury allowed Homan to shake up her rink and add more strength to the backend of her squad. After much team discussion, Homan recently announced her 2022-23 lineup: Sarah Wilkes, lead; Emma Miskew, second; Fleury, skip; and Homan, fourth. Miskew was Homan’s third for 20 consecutive years.
A former Northern Ontario curler (2001-18), Fleury will take Ontario membership for the first time, after playing out of Manitoba from 2018-22). Fleury was the women’s silver medallist at the 2021 Canadian Olympic curling trials and a two-time Grand Slam winner at the Masters event (2021 and 2019).
The American-born Sinclair decided to return home to Osgoode, ON., after spending seven of the past eight years as a skip and coming agonizingly close at two United States Olympic trials. It was time to regroup, focus on family and help her brother Neil with his one-year-old construction company, NASK Design Co.
“I had never planned to retire, but after two Olympic cycles, where I spent eight years in the U.S., it takes its toll,” Sinclair, 30, said in a phone interview during a lunch break at a construction job.
“I lost two Olympic trials finals on last rock. It can really tear you down. After this past season, I needed a break, emotionally, too.
“You can go through all the ‘what ifs,’ but it has been a grind. I can’t complain. I was fortunate to be there eight years. I had an opportunity to be a full-time athlete with all the resources. I couldn’t get that in Canada.”
Born in Anchorage, Alaska, Sinclair formed her own American rink for the 2015-16 season, after spending the previous year as third for Nina Roth, who represented the U.S. at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Sinclair developed strong rinks and won three consecutive American women’s curling championships (2017, 2018 and 2019) and competed in two world championships (2018 and 2019). At the 2018 worlds in North Bay, ON., Sinclair’s rink reached the semifinals, but lost to Canada’s Jennifer Jones 9-7.
After her 2021-22 season, which saw her lose the Olympic trials to Tabitha Peterson and reach the world championship quarterfinals, Sinclair reassessed her life as a full-time athlete, which also was stressful financially.
“What to do? Where to live? I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. I decided to return to my career and work with my brother in renovation and design,” Sinclair added.
During her transition into the construction field, Sinclair was texting with her good curling friend Chelsea Carey, who offered her a spot on her team as a spare or alternate.
The members of Carey’s team are Jolene Campbell, third; Liz Fyfe, second; and Rachel Erickson, lead.
“It came up organically,” Sinclair explained. “We were texting back and forth. She said ‘Is your schedule busy?’ I said ‘I may have time.’”
Sinclair said Carey has entered seven or eight bonspiels at this point, but she’s uncertain how many times she will be called into action. Her first time wearing the Carey uniform will be the $25,000 Curling Stadium Martensville Major on Sept. 1-5. Martensville is eight kilometres north of Saskatoon.
That will be an adventure for Sinclair as she won’t be able to get any practice ice time in Ottawa before the bonspiel. In past years, the Carleton Heights Curling Club has installed its ice in mid-August, but the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed its opening this season.
“I’ll probably have practice time one hour before my first match at the venue (Martensville Curling Club),” she said. “It’s not ideal.”
Sinclair will be able to serve as a spare for the Carey rink in bonspiels, but she is unable to compete in any provincial playdowns, national championships or represent Canada at this point. It all boils down to a rule interpretation.
Curling Canada has ruled Sinclair is ineligible for major Canadian or provincial competitions because she was part of the American system until 2022. If she wants to compete and have a chance to represent Canada, she must sit out a two-year period starting in September.
But Sinclair added she has an email from the World Curling Federation that she is eligible to play in major Canadian competitions. The world governing body ruled she last represented the United States at the 2019 worlds and her two-year penalty has been served.
“I’ve forwarded that email to Curling Canada … and I’m waiting to hear back,” Sinclair said.
For now, she’s focused on her new role as a spare.
“I think it’s great,” she said with enthusiasm. “I look forward to trying different positions. I’m sure I’ll play third most of the time. I plan to learn a lot and soak up the new experience.”
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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