Column: Contented Strong willing to go on

John Browne
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Heather Strong will make her 11th appearance at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts national women’s curling championships starting this Saturday in Montreal.

Curler Heather Strong confesses she’s having more fun now than when she first started in the sport.
She says she’s “mellowed considerably” since her junior curling days, although she admits her younger sister, Laura, might disagree.

“I like to think each year I play I continue to become more relaxed and patient in my approach to the game as well as my interactions with and expectations of my teammates,” Strong said.

The classy 26-year veteran, who is off to Montreal for her 11th national Scotties this weekend, was very open in a recent interview.

She came across as a person who is thoughtful, reflective, contemplative and straightforward while able to express herself well and give an outsider some insight into a game that’s easy to play, but hard to play well. After all, she’s had her share of success and failure over her athletic career and is able to keep things in perspective.

The 37-year-old, provincial director for the Terry Fox Foundation, said she’s happy these days because, “My team is capable of making every shot in the book.

“That was not always the case,” she added. “It’s a lot of fun to curl knowing every shot option is available to call.”

And she points out, no two games are ever exactly alike.

“This is the case at every skill level and, regardless of the number of games you play, it’s fascinating to me that with just 16 rocks per end, the ends can set up so differently from one game to the next and from one end to the next.”

“My perspective has also changed in terms of wins and losses. I can honestly say that I’m at peace now with having played well and lost. If we play well, we’ll win a considerable number of games.”

However, Strong says some close losses in big games stay with her.

“If we lose those, I tend to never forget the shots. I can recall, with relative ease, some key misses in high-stakes games in the late 90s.

“I think if you forget how you missed the really critical shots in your career, you run the risk of making the same mistakes again in the future.”

The most frustrating part of the game isn’t the losing but the ice surface on any given day, according to Strong.

“It’s frustrating to be at the mercy of the ice.”

She pointed out, for example, that some days the ice is not curling much or is extremely heavy.

“I don’t golf, but I imagine it would be like hitting from a tee in strong winds gusts,” she explained. “You can have great technique but it doesn’t matter if the wind decides to take your ball a different direction.

“Or, in basketball,” she added, “it would be like practising shots all year with the net at a certain height and then showing up to play the game only to discover someone moved the net four inches higher.

“When the ice is not good for a game, the outcome becomes a crap shoot.”

Heather’s dad, Carl, who represented the province at the 1972 Brier, introduced her and Laura to curling at about age nine.

She said she was later greatly influenced by Jim Miller, her first coach.

“Jim worked with me to learn strategy and throwing technique,” Strong noted.

“Synchronized swimming was Laura’s and my priority when we were young, but the more we curled the more we appreciated the non-judgemental aspect of the sport.

“Of course,” she added, “as kids the fact that you could eat chips, stay dry and breathe were perks synchronized could not provide. So, as the physical demands of syncro increased, so too did our desire to curl instead.”

So how long will she keep playing competitive curling?

“If you’d asked me this question five or six years ago I’d probably have said forever, but I don’t feel that way anymore,” she said.

Strong said she continues to play because of her teammates, the passion she has for the game and her willingness to practice to improve. As long as those factors are in place, she’ll continue.

When any of those factors depreciates to the point, “where the call of sandy beaches in the summer are too loud to ignore, I will stop cashing in my vacation days to tour Canadian towns in the dead of winter.

Right now she says she remains self-motivated.

“Teammates and coaches can add fuel to the fire, but it’s a fire that’s always burning brightly inside me.”

And when the fire cools, would she consider playing at the recreational level of the sport?

“I don’t think I’d enjoy curling for fun,” she said.

“I would definitely consider coaching before I’d consider non-competitive curling. And before I’d consider coaching, I’d like to learn to ski or buy a pair of ice skates — two things competitive curlers never have time for.”

Right now when she isn’t curling Strong simply likes to take it easy.

“I have two Bernese Mountain dogs,” she said. “When not curling, I love spending time with them.

“It doesn’t matter if we are hiking or on the couch watching TV. They keep my professional, athletic and family life in balance.”

Organizations: Terry Fox Foundation

Geographic location: Montreal

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