Community Clubs Curling

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Elaine Brimicombe hooked on curling on and off the ice

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

By Martin Cleary

You’re never too old to try a sport. You might even like it.

Ottawa’s Elaine Brimicombe will definitely tell you that.

More than 30 years ago, she accepted an invitation from her federal government work colleagues to try curling and join a team in a business league.

“My grandfather played it, but I thought it was an old-person’s sport,” Brimicombe said, reflecting on her youth when curling wasn’t on her activity radar.

But Brimicombe had a whole new appreciation for the sport after she threw her first rocks, learned the ins and outs of the game and socialized with her co-workers.

“I played. I liked it. I was hooked,” she quickly summarized.

Like most adults entering the sport later in life, she realized she wasn’t going to be an elite athlete, although she did win a tool box at one bonspiel, played on a team in a couple of low-profile Ontario Ladies Curling Association championships and had some club success.


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But unlike most adult curlers, Brimicombe realized she could complement playing the game by making the game better through her administrative skills.

“Because I started later in life, I realized my strength was to help the growth of the sport. I started at the club level and became more and more involved on the administrative side,” she said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I would never be an athlete.”

For the past quarter century plus, Brimicombe has been a vital part of the administrative side of the sport at the club, regional and provincial levels.

Earlier this month, she completed her maximum six-year term on the board of directors of CurlON (Ontario Curling Association), which oversees all aspects of curling in the province. After serving her first three years (2016-17 through 2018-19) as a director, she was elected chair for 2019-20 through 2021-22. She received a lifetime achievement award at the end of her executive term.

Brimicombe gained plenty of experience serving on the R.A. Curling Club board of directors, including being chair in 1997, and was a member of the Ottawa Valley Curling Association board of directors from 2010-15, including her final two years as president.

The RA Curling Club. File photo

“I started in the late 1990s at the R.A. Curling Club. I got involved because I wanted to see some change. I got on the curling board,” she added. “It progressed from there. It was a long journey, a progressive journey.”

When Brimicombe was elected to the CurlON board, she wanted to use her management skills as a teacher at Heritage College in Gatineau to alter its governance structure.

In the past, the CurlON board of directors was elected by a small group of 32 people. About three to four years ago, she wanted to broaden that to include all the 180 clubs in the province.

“I wanted to give each club a vote and let the clubs vote for the directors. It helped get the clubs more involved,” she said. “It was one of the things I’m most proud of about being on the CurlON board.

“I also was big on skill sets to bring in people we needed to move the association forward. When we made it open, transparent and with a third party, we got a wider range of candidates.”

In her early days on the board, there were times when she was the only woman at the meetings. She set out to change that.

“Last year, we were gender balanced. It was one of my proud moments,” she continued.

The current eight-member CurlON board has five men and three women, plus non-voting member Collinda Joseph, a Paralympic curler from Stittsville. Rick Thurston of the Dundas Golf and Curling Club in Hamilton replaced Brimicombe as chair.

“I was going to leave last year, but a few board members encouraged me to stay,” Brimicombe said. “But I felt it was the right time (at the end of her six-year board term).

“There’s a really strong board in place with a strong vision of where it is going. I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. It was sad (to leave). But it was a good sad.”

Brimicombe won’t be sitting idle this fall and winter as she has stored her golf clubs, another sport she started later in life, to begin her on-ice curling season after Thanksgiving and stay busy as a volunteer.

She is trying to revitalize wheelchair curling in Ottawa and is a driving force behind Try Curling Now, which will be held Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the R.A. Curling Club. The goal is to attract 12 or more people interested in wheelchair curling to an introductory lesson.

Beijing 2022 Paralympic curler Collinda Joseph. File photo

“I’m working with volunteers to bring back wheelchair curling. It has fallen off, despite having Collinda Joseph, a Paralympic curler, right here in Stittsville,” Brimicombe said.

“We used to play host to an international wheelchair curling bonspiel at one time with curlers from Russia, Italy, the USA and across Canada. Then, it disappeared. With COVID, it has been hard to get the momentum back.”

The R.A. Curling Club formerly had 20 to 25 wheelchair curlers in its membership.

“We have a great roster of volunteers and coaches,” she added. “It’s a great sport. One of the things I love about curling is it appeals to a broad range of people – hearing impaired, vision impaired, men, women, youth and seniors. I started in my late 30s to early 40s and some people are curling well into their 80s.”

Brimicombe also is active as a key volunteer for the 2023 world men’s curling championship April 1-9 at TD Place. The worlds were scheduled for Ottawa in 2021, but were shifted to the bubble-concept in Calgary because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the worlds, Brimicombe will be the senior vice-chair and spokesperson, a familiar role for her. She was vice chair and spokesperson at the 2017 Roar of the Rings Olympic trials and the 2016 Canadian men’s Brier in Ottawa.

“Really, I’ve been blessed to work with dedicated people, and it’s all driven by volunteers,” she added.

If only her grandfather could see her now as an active curler, administrator and volunteer “in an old-person’s sport.” He would be so proud.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 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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