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Lead on MacDuff

Jack MacDuff, skip of the Newfoundland and Labrador's 1976 Brier Canadian Men's Curling Championship rink, raises his arms at the top of Signal Hill Sunday morning. MacDuff made the trip to St. John's this week in part to be honoured for his part in the province's only Brier title to date and to help raise awareness about multiple sclerosis, a disease he has fought for 25 years.
Jack MacDuff, skip of the Newfoundland and Labrador's 1976 Brier Canadian Men's Curling Championship rink, raises his arms at the top of Signal Hill Sunday morning. MacDuff made the trip to St. John's this week in part to be honoured for his part in the province's only Brier title to date and to help raise awareness about multiple sclerosis, a disease he has fought for 25 years.

Jack MacDuff was on a hill Sunday morning, the day after the skip of Newfoundland’s only Brier championship rink found himself on a mountain of appreciation.

The Sunday elevation was that of Signal Hill. Despite cold temperatures, stiff winds and flurries, MacDuff and his son James, a facilitator of his dad’s determination, made the famous climb above St. John’s. 

Yes, they did so in a vehicle, but it wasn’t the wheels of the taxi that were noteworthy. It was those attached to the chair to which Jack MacDuff is consigned.

He has multiple sclerosis, has been battling it for 25 years. It’s progressive and rapidly discharges his body’s battery, daily naps notwithstanding. 

But Jack MacDuff is a fighter and a winner — in a much greater sense than as skip of Newfoundland’s 1976 Brier champions. He wanted to go up Signal Hill because, in part, he thought it might provide a photo op that would encourage others with MS and those that support them, and to draw attention to the effort to find a cure for the disease which, on average, is diagnosed in three or more Canadians daily.

“I really try hard. I’ve tried hard for the last 10 or 12 years to raise money (for MS research),” said the 67-year-old MacDuff, who lives in Moncton, N.B., from where he has organized a Maritimes-wide raffle which results in tens of thousands dollars for the Multiple Sclerosis Society annually. 

And that’s only part of what is happy work for a man, who — despite what has assailed him — maintains good humour, sometimes the self-deprecating kind.

“Donald Trump will look at this as fake news, but I’ll do my best,” he joked about his trip to Signal Hill.

Those comments came after Saturday’s Brier opening ceremonies at Mile One. It was a special event — many longtime Brier-goers have proclaimed it the best opener ever. Even TSN had a good idea that something significant was going to happen, providing live coverage of the ceremonies, something it doesn’t normally do.

There was the Brad Gushue factor, of course, as a packed house at Mile One Centre loudly expressed its support for Gushue and his teammates Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker in their effort to have their names added to the Brier Tankard alongside MacDuff and his 1976 rink of Toby McDonald, Doug Hudson and Ken Templeton. 

There was the appearance of Russ Howard, Jamie Korab and Mike Adam for an on-ice reunion with Gushue, Nichols and McDonald and to be honoured as 2006 Olympic gold-medal winners. 

There were the bagpipes, the drums, and the Ode to Newfoundland (“that was so cool,” said Gushue afterwards). And of course it was the Brier making its first return to St. John’s in 45 years.

But it was something else when MacDuff rolled out onto the Mile One surface with McDonald, Hudson and Templeton to thunderous applause, a moment made even more special because it almost didn’t happen that way.

Up until five days ago, MacDuff was convinced he wouldn’t be able to summon the energy to travel to St. John’s. 

“I really tried to prepare myself to try and reduce the nerves I was going to feel, (but) seeing Jack was what really put me over the edge,” said Gushue, “because he wasn’t supposed to be here … that got me filled up pretty good and I wasn’t ready for that.”

If his appearance somehow helps inspire Gushue and his team in their quest for a Brier title, MacDuff will be overjoyed

“There are a lot of people I know who say, ‘Jack, we don’t want Brad to win because we want you to be the only one (from Newfoundland).’ But I don’t feel that way. I want Brad to win.

“I know what it feels like to win the Brier. It’s such a big deal, there’s nothing like it.” 

bmcc@thetelegram.com

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