Heather Strong has skipped Newfoundland and Labrador to a 5-2 record, just behind co-leaders Ontario and Alberta, both 6-1, at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts national women's curling championship in Regina. Photo by CanWest News Service
Regina - Heather Strong is enjoying her winter getaway in tropical Regina.
"This is our vacation," said Strong, who is back for an eighth time and fourth straight year as skip for the Newfoundland and Labrador entry at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
"I think that we'll save the exotic locations for retirement. I don't think I'll see a sandy beach for the next little while."
Strong says forgoing vacations to the sunny south is just one of the sacrifices needed to curl at this level.
"We invest a lot of time and money to play here," said Strong, who is the provincial director of Newfoundland's Terry Fox Foundation.
"It's a real honour to represent your province. (Tournament sponsor) Kruger Products takes such good care of us, so all those factors put together are the reason we love playing in this. We wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."
But there are tradeoffs to be made. To curl at an elite level, the sport cannot be approached as a form of recreation.
"There's the practice regime, and the teams you see here are only a fraction of those that put in the same amount of effort and just came out on the wrong side of the inch," Strong said. "There are a lot of high-calibre curlers in Canada who are making that sacrifice.
"Having said that, it is obviously a lot of fun or we wouldn't choose to sacrifice finances and our time with our families to play this game."
Strong is curling in Regina for the third time at a major Canadian Curling Association event.
In 1995, she competed at the Canadian junior curling championships when they were held at the Callie. Three years later, she made her Scotties debut when the event was held in Regina.
The latter event doubled as a homecoming celebration of Sandra Schmirler's team, which won Canada's first Olympic curling gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Japan. The 1998 Scotties attracted 154,688 spectators - by far the highest figure in the history of the event.
"I don't think you can compare (this year's Scottie) to 1998," Strong said. "That's in its own ballpark, in my opinion, but in terms of the talent here, it's as high-calibre curling as I've ever seen. There's 16 rocks on every sheet so, in that respect, all Scotties are going to be the same. We're just as excited to be here as we were in '98.
"That (1998 Scotties) had some unique elements going for it, so it's tough to compare that to any other, but this Scott is fantastic and we're having fun so far."
How do the curlers ensure that they are having fun while involved in intense competition for a coveted national title?
"It's an important balance to strike," said Strong, who curls with Cathy Cunningham, Laura Strong (Heather's sister) and Peg Goss.
"It's a whole event, so you do have to spend some time with the spectators. You have to spend some time enjoying the atmosphere and experience, because there's only one team that's going to leave here as Canadian champions, so you want to make sure that all 12 teams enjoy themselves along the way."