A recent event at the Belfast Curling Club has me rethinking my on-again, off-again relationship with the sport of curling. That’s after 24 teams of healthy, athletic women, aged 55 and older and from all over this country, converged on the club Dec. 2-6 for the 2015 Senior Women’s Bonspiel, an annual championship event of the United States Women’s Curling Association.
The event is held each year in a different location. This is the first time it has been hosted in Belfast, home to Maine’s only full-blown curling club.
It pains me to admit that, against my better judgement, the term “senior women” conjures up a geriatric stereotype. Perhaps this is true of many people, and perhaps this explains why no one paid much attention to the news that this national event was coming to Belfast. Gray-haired dowagers with walkers are senior women. Frail old dears who need help cutting their Salisbury steak are senior women. I certainly don’t assume that many senior women are serious athletes. And it rarely occurs to me that, as a reasonably active and robust 61-year-old, I also am a senior woman.
I was introduced to curling two winters ago by my husband, Douglas, who is an accomplished, longtime curler. I’ve played a few sessions, but deficient in both athleticism and the competitive spirit, I decided not to play this fall — too busy, I told myself, and also a little embarrassed by my persistent lack of skill. Maybe next session, I said, waffling.
Douglas, fortunately, remains committed to both the sport and the Belfast club. When the word went out that the bonspiel organizers needed a small army of people to time each of 54 individual games, he promptly signed us both up.
It was impressive to watch these mature curlers demonstrate their skill. Women well into their 50s, 60s and 70s, of many body types, competed in teams of four, having traveled from as far away as Arizona and Colorado to participate in the four-day event. Delivering the heavy stones down the length of the ice in a precise arc — or ‘curl’ — sweeping vigorously to extend the distance the stone travels, strategizing for the best placement in the target zone — these women were clearly enjoying a prowess gained from years of experience.
Being women, their on-ice outfits revealed a range of personal styles — sleek athletic wear, plaid kilts with leggings, traditional hand-knit curling sweaters. Many wore their hair in a short, sensible, gray bob while others pinned longer tresses back or tucked them under a colorful cap. One woman had tipped her short, silvery ’do with raspberry-colored dye. Another had woven strands of Christmas tinsel into her shoulder-length hair. It was clear that style was, for many, a playful element of their serious athletic performance.
After three full days of games, punctuated by meals, local shopping and other activities, the Senior Women’s Bonspiel culminated Sunday morning with final competitions at four levels. The top-level competition was won by the undefeated team from Kettle Moraine, Wisconsin, whose youngest member was born in 1954 — making her about my age — and whose oldest member was born in 1937. The runners up hail from Saint Paul, Minnesota, and are young pups by comparison.
We all know the value of so-called “lifetime sports” — activities such as swimming, tennis and golf that allow us to adapt to the needs of our changing bodies as we age. Curling, too, is a lifetime sport, for men as well as women. It demands concentration and control more than strength and stamina, it allows the use of adaptive devices and its social conventions are grounded in cordial good-sportsmanship. As the lively senior women at last week’s national championship so capably demonstrated, curling cultivates good health, physical coordination, conviviality and style, long after many of us consider our prime athletic years behind us.