On Feb. 18, the USA Curling Nationals wrapped a week of competition with Team McCormick taking gold in the men's competition and Team Pottinger winning the women's. This is not that story.
This is a story about a jackass who traveled to the USA Curling Nationals in Aston, Pennsylvania, to learn the game and drink beer -- not necessarily in that order.
Every four years, curling enjoys an Olympic boon, as people are drawn to the sweeping and proximity-based scoring that makes shuffleboard and bocce such delightful vacation games. But there's a yawning gap between Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014: The viewing public may go into hibernation after the closing ceremonies, but Team USA needs to build an Olympic squad, and that started in February in Pennsylvania.
Aston's IceWorks Skating Complex is at once modest and impressive. The center rink, though a humble home to the Philadelphia Little Flyers, housed more than a thousand fans for the curling finals on Feb. 18, while the neighboring practice rink -- where I learned to curl at the instruction of 2010 Olympian John Benton -- suggests that the arena is capable of more than suspected at first glance. It's a metaphor for curling in America: There's room for more.
What there wasn't room for: all of the stories in Aston. I spoke to a woman who was trying to rebuild her Connecticut curling club after it was burned to the ground by an act of arson. I drank a beer and played a game of table curling with Chris Plys, an affable young curler with a Twins hat and a Lake Superior tattoo on his forearm who turned in one of the stronger performances for the American men in Vancouver in 2010. I watched as a wheelchair-bound young man explained the freak injury that paralyzed him and ended his ability to play the sport he loved. I encountered a barrage of Minnesota accents, none more endearing than that of Terry Kolesar, a USA Curling rep who cheerfully tolerated me even after I asked curlers questions posed by my Twitter followers, a disastrous idea that included me asking John Shuster* -- who I didn't realize was a goat of the 2010 Olympic team -- why he hadn't left the country. Whoops.
And most notably, I watched an epic women's semifinal match that went from inconsequential blowout to historic nail-biter. Team Potter, anchored by sisters Cassie Potter and Jamie Haskell, squandered a 9-2 lead through five ends -- the rough equivalent of a 49-10 lead at halftime of a football game -- before salvaging an 11-9 win over Team Sormunen on a spectacular final throw by Potter.
These were the stories of the USA Curling Nationals, and they're easily more compelling than mine. I was there to drink beer and chip away at my ignorance of the sport, and in that regard only is my story a success. My curling story is merely a pleasant diversion from life -- but sometimes, that's the most valuable thing a sport can give us.
(*Benton, Plys, and Shuster are all in the feature that Stephen Colbert did for the 2010 Olympics.)