As I watch Curling Club of Virginia player P.J. Palsa demonstrate the moves I will soon have to execute, I feel myself shaking. Partly because it’s so cold on the ice and partly because of fear. I have never done anything like this before, and I’m terrified! It’s hard enough to stay upright while walking on slippery ice. Now they want me to put one foot on a slippery neoprene slider, squat and glide forward while holding onto a 42-pound stone that I will then have to release at the appropriate angle. All without injuring or embarrassing myself!
For me, the hardest part is releasing the stone with the right amount of pressure for it to rotate as it glides down the ice. That is much tougher than it looks. Thankfully, though, I manage to squat and slide without catastrophe. I’m not as graceful as the college-age girl next to me, but my years of training in dance and yoga have given me the balance and flexibility to avoid falling over.
Balance and flexibility are just two traits that help with curling. Being in cardiovascular shape also helps, as I learn from our lessons in sweeping, which involves quickly brushing a broom back and forth in front of the gliding stone to keep it going in the right direction. When we tried it, the stone was moving more slowly than it would in a real game, and it was tiring even then!
“It’s a good cardio workout for those 15 seconds you’re sweeping the stone,” says player Ryan McGhee. “You’re sweeping four stones in each end, and we’re playing 8-end games, so you’re doing that part of the workout again and again and again.” Palsa finds that if she plays two games in one night she easily logs over 10,000 steps on her Fitbit. The sweeping also involves some strength because you’re putting as much weight as possible on the broom. “It’s like doing pushups all the way down the ice,” McGhee says.
Curling’s mental challenge also contributes to improved health. “You’re having to really focus on what you’re doing,” Palsa says. “There is a lot of strategy involved.” Because of the mental component, anyone can curl, even if they are older and out of shape. For older players who don’t have the flexibility to get into a lunge position, the Club can provide a delivery stick. Other modifications are also available for players who need them. During the curling demonstration, I met Michael Gardner, a hearing-impaired curler. He explained that gestures enable him to communicate with team members on the ice.
Numerous studies have shown that social interaction correlates with good health, and curling provides many opportunities to socialize, both on the ice and off. It’s a long-standing tradition, for instance, that the winning team buys the first round when the players celebrate after a game. “The social aspect got me into curling,” says McGhee. “The health and fitness aspects were a really good addition.”