Editor’s Note: Thirty-three-year old Douglas King lives in Islip, New York. He was looking for a sport that he and his wife both could participate in when they discovered that adaptive curling included divisions for people who use wheelchairs. At this writing, he’s been curling for about 1-1/2 years with the Long Island Curling Club.
I was born with Spina Bifida, so I’ve been in a wheelchair most of my life. I am a compliance officer for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for Suffolk County, New York.
I aggressively studied what this legislation promised people with disabilities. I felt this legislation was very important not only for me but for all people with disabilities to know to what they were entitled. So, you might say I was self-educated on this act. To prepare myself even more for a job like the one I have now, I got a bachelor’s degree in social work at Empire State College.
How Doug Began to Curl
I’ve always been involved in sports. My wife Erin is able-bodied and I use a wheelchair. Erin and I wanted to find sports that we could participate in together, but there weren’t that many sports available in which we both could participate. Then Erin discovered the Long Island Curling Club. We decided to try curling, which was how we first got interested in the sport of sliding a rock down the ice, so that it would stop in the center of a target.
Today we’re on two separate teams. She competes with the AB curlers, and I compete with the curlers with disabilities. We can go to our curling club, both compete at the same time and come home at the same time.
One of the differences in wheelchair curling and traditional curling is that curlers with disabilities don’t sweep out in front of the stone.
Otherwise, people with disabilities compete in curling just like you see curling preformed in the Olympics, Although the stone is really heavy, you don’t have to pick it up. People with disabilities use a handle that allows us to push and glide the stone on the ice.
At this interview, I’m driving to an international wheelchair tournament in Cape Cod. Not only am I competing locally, but I’ve started competing internationally. Curling is a relatively young sport for wheelchair athletes. I’ve been told there are only about 50 of us curling nationally. But the number of wheelchair curlers internationally is really large. My goal and one of the reasons I started curling internationally is to make the U.S. Paralympic Team. Before now, I‘ve played wheelchair softball and wheelchair basketball.
How Doug Approaches Adaptive Curling
When people in wheelchairs curl, we’re allowed to use what’s called a delivery stick that’s attached to the end of the stone. We use the delivery stick to throw (push) the stone down the ice. When I first started curling, participating in the sport was much like going into a foreign country. I had to learn the language, the sport and the strategies involved in curling.
So, I spent about 6 months doing my orientation. Now, I’m beginning to learn more about the finesse and timing involved in the sport.
When most people look at curling, they may think, “All those people do is slide a rock down the ice.” But curling is much more than that.
Curling is really a very complicated game of strategy. It’s much like chess in that you have to plan where you want your stone to arrive at the house (the button or the center mark of the target) based on where your competitor’s stone is.
The real skill involved in curling is trying to knock your opponent’s stone away from the house and keep your stone in the house. You have to throw (push) the stone 150 feet. While pushing the stone down the ice and trying to land it on the center mark, you often have to apply enough force to the stone to knock your opponent’s stone away from the center mark.
I was taught the basics of the sport of curling by two ladies who didn’t use wheelchairs. One of my instructors contacted one of the assistant coaches for Team U.S.A. in wheelchair curling who lived in Cape Cod, and I talked with him. He invited me to come up to Cape Cod, so he could evaluate what I had learned about the sport, and what else I needed to learn to be competitive.
Erin and I spent 2 weeks in Cape Cod and learned more about the basics of curling from this coach. One of the most important things I learned from this coach was that curling is a continuing education sport. You learn something new every time you compete.
What Doug Hopes to Accomplish
After I compete in this upcoming tournament, I’m hoping that I will get invited to the pre-trials for the Paralympic Games. Curling has only been a Paralympic sport since 2006, making it a relativity new sport for people in wheelchairs. Eight wheelchair curlers are chosen for the U.S.A. team. Of that eight, the top five curlers are chosen to compete in the Paralympic Games. After this next competition, I’ll find out how I’m ranked.
Sure I’d like to be on Team U.S.A., and I’d really love to go to the Paralympics. But my primary goal in going to each and every tournament is to learn more and more about the sport to prepare myself to be one of the nation’s top curlers.
This year the pre-Paralympic trials will be held in Blaine, Minnesota, and I’m hoping I’ll qualify. During this weekend competition, each of us will throw about 80 stones. That’s a lot of stones. I’ve been in two competitions like this.
After throwing that many stones, I’m really, really tired, because the stone weighs 42 pounds.
Even though we don’t have to pick up the stones, we still have to push that weight down the ice. I’ll be competing against 50 of the nation’s best wheelchair curlers.
I’m often asked, “How in the world did you find a curling club?” My wife Erin really likes to do research on the internet. So she did a Google search on wheelchair curling on Long Island. One of the results that came back for curling on Long Island was the Long Island Curling Club.
Erin talked to one of the ladies who eventually became my curling coach, and we made an appointment to go and see if I could participate in curling. After about two visits, we both were hooked on the sport, and we really enjoyed the people we met at the curling club.
I’m a real people person. So, I enjoy the social aspect of the curling team, as much if not more, than learning how to curl. The word TEAM is something I connect with my curling club and it means Together Everybody Achieves More. I’ve learned that in curling everyone on our curling team is good at one or more aspects of the sport. We play four against four in curling.
Another aspect of curling that I truly enjoy is that people with disabilities can compete against anyone, including able-bodied people.
I practice with everyone in my club, although about 50 competitors are on the Long Island Curling Team and only four athletes in wheelchairs. The sport is continuing to grow.
See Adaptive Curling in Action:
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, curling is a relatively new sport for people with disabilities. However, I think it’s a great fun sport, and plenty of other people in wheelchairs will enjoy curling in wheelchairs, if they’ll try it.
- A Flemish artist in the mid-1500s portrayed the sport being played on frozen ponds.
- The first written evidence of curling was written in Latin and was recorded by a notary in Scotland.
- The first recognized curling clubs were formed in Scotland.
- The Olympic Games of 1924 in Chamonix offered international competition in curling for men’s teams.
- The first World Wheelchair Curling Championship was held in 2002, and curling’s first year at the International Paralympic Games was in 2006.
About the Author:
John E. Phillips For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.