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Jessie Veeder, Published March 09 2013

Coming Home: Finally finding the sport for me

I married into a family with athletic capabilities, a competitive spirit and a tight grip on sport-like traditions.

These are qualities I was born without.

Yes, the genes that make most people care a great deal about winning anything other than Catch Phrase skipped over me and landed on my little sister, leaving me with Olive Oyl arms and the inability to understand the game of football.

It isn’t pretty, but over the course of my life I’ve grown to accept it, kindly declining my friends’ requests to join our small town softball or volleyball teams out of respect for the game and my dignity.

But there is one sport that has swept its way into my life since I said, “I do” to my husband the former football player/wrester/super athlete.

It’s called curling. And yes, it’s a sport.

An Olympic one.

I know we’re all close enough to Canada to be familiar enough with this game of frozen shuffleboard. Up here where winter lasts six months and the landscape lacks mountains, it’s only natural that Canada’s innovative and entertaining use of ice slabs would trickle down to us.

Now I have to admit I held a soft spot in my heart for the sport even before I joined a family that actually participates in it. In 2004 when the USA Curling National Championships were held in Grand Forks I was asked to sing the national anthem, a performance that aired on like ESPN 24, bringing me as close to famous as I’ll ever be. And then I moved on with my life, content in my new found knowledge of the meaning of the word “bonspiel.”

Little did I know that my sister-in-law’s marriage to a sweet and athletic Canadian would find me drinking beer at the Williston Basin Curling Club each March watching competitors slide 42-pound granite rocks across a giant, indoor rink while their teammates brush the ice with a passion and vigor that makes me understand why this sport has a spot in the Winter Games.

It’s actually quite a sight, even for someone who, after all these years, has yet to learn the actual and official rules.

Because I’ve always been a spectator, kicked back eating roast beef sandwiches admiring a game where men and women, young and old, experts, the athletically challenged and everyone in between gather for a friendly competition, the love of strategy and a chance to get together and do something fun on these long, cold, northern winter nights.

Ask any curler at any level what they love about the sport and they will tell you it’s the people. And athlete or not, I can respect a sport that encourages high fives from the opposing team when you make a good shot and buying one another a round of drinks to celebrate the game.

So last weekend when I was asked to grab a broom, strap on a slippery shoe and get out there already, I nervously obliged, knowing that as long as I managed to stay on my feet, I might just blend in.

And the way I wobbled as I knelt down on the ice preparing to launch that rock across the rink was not a pretty sight. Neither were the times I slid from my feet to my butt to my face or the look of fear in my eyes as I attempted to run down the ice at full speed while mimicking the enthusiastic sweeping I’ve been watching for years.

But it didn’t matter, because the help and advice I got from both my team and the one we were losing to reassured me that each one of them had been there before and they were just glad to see me trying.

And at the end of it all these Olive Oyl arms were pretty tired, but I was glad for it. And glad for the beer, the friends, family and the chance to claim curling as my one and only sport.

So if you need me I’ll be on the frozen dam with my broom and prairie rock, channeling my competitive spirit and brushing up on my skills for next year.

See you at the bonspiel!

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.