Illustration by Patrick Neil
Every two years, there’s this thing I do: I watch the Olympics. Doesn’t matter if it’s the Summer or the Winter Olympics, I watch the opening ceremonies with the thousands of athletes with their hopes and dreams shining in their eyes.I watch the magic and the medals and the tears, and I think to myself, “I wish I could be an Olympian.”
But sports don’t come easily to me. I can’t run to save my life—literally. I play basketball like a Tyrannosaurus rex (you know, useless arms). I tried skateboarding, skiing and in-line skating once. And there’s a reason I stopped after “once.”
Knowing how ungodly unnatural I am at sports, I figured my Olympic dreams rested on either divine intervention or on what seemed the easiest sport of them all—curling.
How physically hard can this be? Wear these snazzy pants, push off of this thing right here, slide down the ice a little ways, let go of this round stone thing here, and voilà! Olympic glory.
In my heady post-Olympics state, I got in touch with the Pittsburgh Curling Club and set up a lesson. Dan, the instructor, met me at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center. His goal—to turn me from a worthless sack of nothing into an Olympic hero with an engraved invitation to the 2014 Sochi games, where Bob Costas would ask me questions such as, “How’s that gold medal feel hanging around your neck?”
The first thing that struck me about curling was this: Ice is very slippery. Then Dan handed me a slider that went under my shoe for the sole purpose of making the ice 900 million times more slippery.
I successfully pushed off and slid down the ice with the 44-pound stone in front of me quite ungracefully several times without falling. This pleased me. Then Dan said, “OK, this time, let’s try letting go of the stone.” I wasn’t aware how much balance was required to stay upright upon the “letting go of the stone,” especially a stone that I had apparently been using as a crutch.
The first time I fell, I was sliding so slowly it wasn’t so much of a fall as it was a gentle giving out of the legs. I smiled. Small setback. Every Olympian has setbacks. Look at Dan Jansen.
The second time I fell, the photographer from Pittsburgh Magazine was all, “[click click click] HAHAHA! This is so fun! Zoom in! [click click click].”
The third time I fell, I was moving so fast and my hip hit the ice so hard that I felt something shift in my back. Something … not good. I realized the reason they had me sign that waiver.
The fourth time I fell, my husband was snapping iPhone pictures of me rolling around on the ice like a seal and then posting them immediately to his Facebook account with captions such as, “Ur doing it wrong.” I questioned my decision to bring him along.
The fifth time I fell, I was focusing so hard on all the things I had to remember to do that I didn’t do any of them. I may have punched the ice in frustration. I don’t recommend this because the ice always wins.
At this juncture, I was getting better at staying upright but still hadn’t sent the stone more than 3/4 of the way to the target, which is on the other side of the rink, but it may as well have been in Uzbekistan.
The ever-patient, always-smiling Dan decided to give me a break so I could try sweeping. And I thought, well, sweeping in front of a stone. THIS I can do.
But guess what? Sweeping is hard, exerting work that requires you to stay in front of a stone that seems to be traveling at 60 miles per hour, never touching the stone while moving your arms as fast as you can for, well, forever. After one turn at sweeping, the photographer was snapping pictures of me doubled over and breathing as if I had just run the 100-meter dash. With hurdles. While wearing ankle weights.
After 1 1/2 hours of curling, I had a bruise on my underarm from the “stabilizing” (hah!) broom. My hipbone hurt. My quads hurt. My lungs burned. My husband was informing the Internet how terrible I was at curling, and the photographer was all, “[click click click] Best day ever. [click click click].”
But here’s the thing—best day ever. So fun. So addictive. So frustratingly NOT EASY. I have a new respect for the sport and for its athletes.
As for me, my dreams of Olympic glory have not completely burnt out thanks to Plan B: Divine intervention. “Are you there, God? It’s me, Virginia.”