The overwhelming feeling of representing Canada resonates deep in curler Nyla Kurylowich’s soul.
The upcoming 19th Winter Deaflympics is the fourth life-altering international competition for the Sturgeon County resident to cherish with pride.
“I’m very beyond thrilled and honoured to wear the Maple Leaf to play in the Deaflympics,” Kurylowich said in an email. “It’s my long life dream to play in the Deaflympics. My dream finally comes true!”
Kurylowich, 44, was also a Canadian rocker at three World Deaf Curling Championships.
“My best memory is wearing the Canadian curling jacket and playing against other deaf women curlers. We all were able to play curling that we all love,” Kurylowich said. “It was amazing to see all the different countries sign language. We understood each other through the curling sport. The deaf sport world is small and I was able to make new friends in different countries. I still keep in touch with many deaf curlers. It developed strong curling bonds.”
Kurylowich is the second on the Team Canada rink skipped by Holly Jamieson of Fort Saskatchewan with connections to the St. Albert Curling Club. Sally Korol of Edmonton is the third and a pair of Winnipeggers, lead Susanne Beriault and fifth Sherry Clark, joined the trio who won the 2018 Canada Deaf Games in Winnipeg with Andrea Scott the lead for Team Alberta.
Taina Smiley of Sturgeon County is the coach and Angie Turnbull of Edmonton is the interpreter for the medal contenders at the Deaflympics, an International Olympic Committee sanctioned event for deaf athletes to compete at an elite level.
Curling is one of six sports at the Deaflympics in Madesimo, Italy, and the competition runs Dec. 9 to 21.
“We stand a really good chance of playing for gold,” Smiley told the Gazette Saturday at the Saville Community Recreation Centre in the last weekend practice session for Team Canada before the Deaflympics.
“What a busy weekend with heavy curling training!” Kurylowich said of the three ice sessions Saturday, which included a game against Team Scott, and two Sunday sessions.
The weekend training camp marked the third trip to Edmonton for the Winnipeg curlers since September to practice with their teammates.
“It’s very challenging, but they’ve been really great at practicing on their own. They send me video to critique so I do technical analysis that way. I also went to Winnipeg in the summer to work with them,” said Smiley of the Winnipeg additions with Scott unavailable for the Deaflympics and the need for a required fifth.
Beriault, 40, was the Team Manitoba skip at the Canada Deaf Games and in the final lost 7-4 in nine ends to Jamieson.
Beriault, a self-acknowledged versatile curler who mostly plays second or skip with two clubs in Winnipeg, is making her international debut at the Deaflympics.
Clark, 38, a mother of three and the lead on Beriault’s rink at the Canada Deaf Games, is going to her third international competition after serving as a fifth on gold-medal winning rinks at the 2007 Deaflympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, with Korol as a teammate and 2009 World Deaf Championships in Winnipeg with Korol and Kurylowich in the lineup.
Korol, 38, heads to her sixth international event after returning home with two gold, two bronze and the one silver for the mom of two female curlers was at the 2013 Deaf World Curling Championships in Bern, Switzerland with Kurylowich, Judy Robertson as skip and lead Lynda Taylor as Team Canada lost 9-7 to Russia in the final.
One of the challenges with the limited get together as a rink, according to Jamieson, is when “the three of us from Edmonton we’ll come up with a good strategy or a good way to communicate and then we have to re-teach our concept to the other two. Sometimes it’s a catch-up game, but it’s really nice to have everyone together. It's an opportunity to make sure we're all on the same page,” said the skip of the top-ranked team in the Wednesday night ladies’ league in Sherwood Park curling with Korol, Kurylowich and Alyssa Harder.
Despite the distance between Edmonton and Winnipeg, the bond is tight between the curlers on the eve of the Deaflympics.
“We feel that we are ready to play. Chemistry between Edmonton and Winnipeg (curlers) is great. We practiced and played bonspiels together several times. Big thanks to technology that we are able to keep in touch through texting, emailing and FaceTime,” said Kurylowich of the winning team at the Jasper bonspiel in March as well as curling in the St. Albert bonspiel in early November.
Going for gold
Smiley is confident Team Canada is ready to rock.
“They’re working really, really hard,” Smiley said. “Communication is huge and we’ve worked very, very hard on that. As you can imagine, the challenges on a deaf team are that they talk with their hands and they need both hands to sweep so communication becomes very tricky. We worked really hard on refining it so that it’s simple, almost elegant and very concise. They know exactly what they need to do. They will drop to one sweeper if they need to really be communicating on those finesse shots. The sweepers have a really great understanding and there is no panic. It's very controlled and done very, very well,” said Smiley, a level three coach who has been learning American Sign Language (“I’m still really bad at it”) to better communicate with the curlers. “We do bring an interpreter with us for this event, but at all the other practices we don’t always have her so it’s handy for me to know some.”
Smiley was the coach at the 2017 Deaflympics in Sochi, Russia as Jamieson skipped the Team Canada rink of Korol, Kurylowich, and Scott to a bronze-medal victory by one point over Hungary after losing to China in the semifinals. China, with three 16-year-olds, went on beat Russia for gold.
Deaflympic curling follows World Curling Federation rules and games are 10 ends.
“I would expect it to be quite similar to Sochi,” Smiley said of the seven-team women’s draw at the Deaflympics. “Our biggest competition would probably be China and Russia again as it was the last time we competed.”
As for the level of curling internationally for deaf athletes, “These are people that do this for fun. They all have lives and jobs and they have to work really hard to fundraise. This is not their full-time occupation and it's not their only passion where the elite competitors in Canada would have more time, more funding to be able to develop their skills and they develop them from a younger age so as far as the level of competition it's not really comparable to pure elite curlers,” Smiley said.
Kurylowich described it as “very competitive playing against many new young curling teams, especially Russia and China. We are trying our best and set up higher curling training to beat the China or Russia teams. Those two countries play curling full time while we in Canada balance our times with jobs, families and curling,” said the mother of two. “Many new countries sign up and we will play against a few new teams as well. We will play our best for a top performance in the Deaflympics.”
Jamieson, 25, had previous international experience as the second on the 2015 world junior championship rink skipped by Kelsey Rocque in Tallinn, Estonia, before the World Deaf Curling Championships in Sochi.
“It’s very special for myself. To get to play for Team Canada is very rare,” Jamieson said. “With the deaf community you have a little bit more opportunity to get to go so I treasure every moment I can because you never know when it's about to end.
“Sochi was a very intense competition. It was very different for me because I have never had to play without my hearing aids in before,” said Jamieson, who was diagnosed with a severe bilateral hearing loss as a young child. “What might be quiet to me is really loud for you. I can maybe hear a fire alarm, but if I’m sleeping I might not hear it.”
Unlike the athletes in other IOC sanctioned events, the Deaflympians can’t be guided by sounds.
“It was a very interesting experience because when I’ve played without them sometimes it's easier for me to focus,” said Jamieson, noting she has to leave the hearing aids in the hotel and can’t wear them on the transportation bus to the rink or in the building. “And now for the Deaflympics coming up it’s good that I have that experience. I know what to expect this time so it will be a little bit of a different experience.”
Smiley was Jamieson’s coach before she rose to prominence on the junior circuit.
“We worked hard on communication with the hearing team with her. Although she had hearing aids she still couldn’t hear everything so we had developed a really good rapport that way,” said the assistant manager of the St. Albert Curling Club.
As for the buildup to the Deaflympics, "It’s very exciting. We’ve been waiting for this for over a year. We’ve been counting down the days now and it's two weeks until we leave and we're like OK, it's time to actually put the pedal to the metal and get this,” Jamieson said.
Kurylowich wanted to recognize the Canada Deaf Sports Association for its sponsorship and curling training program “that makes Team Canada happen.”
Visit assc-cdsa.com for more information.