FORT WAYNE – The first thing you’ll notice about seeing curling live is how loud it is.
Unlike the smooth, sterile environment of televised curling, standing next to the ice during a bonspiel lets you actually hear – and feel – the grate of the stone across the ice as the 42-pound rocks rumble from one end of the rink to the other.
You hear the scrape of the one shoe on each curler’s foot that grips and the slide of the other. You hear the strategy sessions, the yells, and the scrape of the brooms as they warm the ice with friction to make the stone go farther.
And you will be cold.
It’s a fun sport, with good camaraderie and good sportsmanship, said Tim Kelly, a curler from Rockford, Ill., who competes in wheelchair curling. He was on Team USA for the World Wheelchair Curling Championships in South Korea in February; Saturday he was in Fort Wayne competing and watching some of North America’s best curling teams at Summerspiel, hosted by the Fort Wayne Curling Club.
Kelly said one of the reasons curling continues to grow is that while it requires some athleticism, it’s nowhere near what is needed for many other sports. In addition, you can use a walking start to throw a stone, meaning even those with knee problems can compete.
It’s for all ages, all abilities, he said. People see it in the Olympics and say, What are they doing?’ But it gets you, and you get sucked in.
Indeed, the Fort Wayne Curling Club was re-established after the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, after being dormant for 122 years, and held its first tournament just a few months later.
That tournament – the Summerspiel – has grown so quickly that it’s now drawing the elite of the curling world. Teams like it because it’s a good warm-up before the season kicks off in September.
As Kelly spoke, Erika Brown’s team was finishing its third victory of the tournament. Brown, Debbie McCormick, Jessica Schultz and Ann Swisshelm are all former Olympians and hope to compete again in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Brown is a former U.S. national champion; her father, Steve Brown, coaches the U.S. Paralympic Team.
Brown’s team will need to do well at nationals in February in Green Bay, Wis., to qualify for the Olympic trials, which will be in November 2013 in Fargo, N.D.
We’ve got a great team, with a ton of experience, and we have a great season planned, McCormick said.
McCormick, 38, said that unlike many sports, age can be a big advantage in curling.
It’s a lifetime sport, she said. You get better the older you get. You get better with your improved strategy and experience.
Bill Swisshelm, statistician for Brown’s team and Ann Swisshelm’s father, said the team came to Fort Wayne this year because they had heard really good things about last year’s tournament – only the second one Fort Wayne had hosted.
This is our first time in Fort Wayne, and we’ve really been impressed, Bill Swisshelm said.
Greg Eigner’s team won two of its three matches as of Saturday afternoon; Eigner is from Fort Wayne and curls with the Fort Wayne Curling Club.
The Summerspiel continues today at Lutheran Health SportsCenter, 3869 Ice Way. Admission is free; today’s action includes the playoffs and the finals.