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Surprise visit: MacDuff's appearance highlight's Brier opening ceremonies

['The members of the 1976 Newfoundland Jack MacDuff Brier champions team were special guests at the opening ceremonies.\n']
['The members of the 1976 Newfoundland Jack MacDuff Brier champions team were special guests at the opening ceremonies.\n']

It was only the first day of the Canadian men’s curling championship in St. John’s, but fans at a packed Mile One Centre were able to stand and cheer for Brier champions from Newfoundland and Labrador.

They hope to be able to do the same for Brad Gushue’s rink at the end of this event, but on Saturday, the applause — and admiration — were for the Jack MacDuff rink, which won Newfoundland and Labrador’s only Brier title in 1976 in Regina, Sask.
The entire team, which includes Toby McDonald, Doug Hudson and Ken Templeton, were introduced and recognized during the opening ceremonies prior to the first draw, but it was MacDuff’s appearance that was a particularly pleasant surprise.
The 67-year-old, who lives in Moncton, N.B., has multiple sclerosis and up until a few days ago was resigned to not being able to accept an invitation to attend the Brier.
But on Thursday, his son James, who lives in Halifax, drove to Moncton carrying a simple message.
“He said, ‘Dad, we’re going,’” said Jack MacDuff. “We started going through a bunch of old Brier things and a  bunch of pictures. He said, ‘We’ll go in the car in the morning,’ and so we did Friday morning … drove to Halifax (the airport) and got on the beautiful big bird and away we came.”
It hadn’t taken much convincing. James MacDuff said he knew his father badly wanted to make the trip, but it was truly a case of something being easier said than done. The MS Jack MacDuff has dealt with for a quarter century is progressive and is energy-sapping — naps are a daily requirement — and has consigned him to a wheelchair.
“I’m really happy to be here. I don’t feel great, but I feel good enough to be here,” he candidly admitted after the opening ceremonies.
That the 1976 Brier winners would be part of the event had long been planned, but McDonald says he had pretty much given up on MacDuff joining him, Hudson and Templeman.
On Friday, he had heard rumours MacDuff may have changed his mind and was coming, but couldn’t reach him to confirm. So he arrived to Mile One fully expecting to head out onto the ice without his old skip.
Until his phone rang at 9:20 a.m.
“I was as surprised as anyone else,” said McDonald about getting a call from his old friend.
“And overjoyed.”
MacDonald had to scurry back to his house to get some sweaters and brooms to help outfit MacDuff for his Mile One appearance, but that rush was nothing to the one he felt as the entire rink was introduced to thunderous applause and then joined Gushue, his present rink and his 2006 Olympic gold-medal team for a most unique picture.
“It’s a dream for the Brier to come here, but an absolutely amazing dream that Jack is here to share this,” said McDonald, because we had given up hope about three weeks ago that he would make it.
“So it’s a thrill for all of us and it really added something to what already was a great event.”
Count Gushue among those who were overwhelmed by MacDuff being part of the ceremonies.
“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.”
MacDuff says he will try to take in as much as possible of the Brier while he is here, but also wants to use the trip as a way of highlighting the fight — and not just his — against multiple sclerosis. The idea that the trip might help raise awareness was part off the incentive to come.
“It is. I really try hard. I’ve tried hard for the last 10 or 12 years to raise money (for MS research),” said MacDuff, who is even planning a trip to Signal Hill during his time here in hopes it could result in a photo op that attract some attention to the cause.
Monitoring all of the planned activity is his son, who knows his dad will be in great demand and only;y too willing to oblige.
“I feel like I’m protecting him from the paparazzi,” laughed James.
“But it’s already been so great, No, it’s not that easy for him, but sometimes there are things you just have to do and this was one of them.
“And I had some confidence that he could do it. We’ve done some of these kinds of trips before … three or four years ago, we were at the Indy 500 right behind the pits.”
James was in on the plan to make the trip to St. John’s a surprise. For the most part, it  worked.
“We tried to keep him incognito in the airport, but even in a hat and sunglasses, people from Briers past still recognized him.
“Which was actually very nice.”
And after all that it took to get here, there was no disguising MacDuff’s delight at having made it.
“Absolutely worthwhile,” he said about the effort that brought him to a moment that he … and everyone in attendance, won’t forget.

bmcc@thetelegram.com

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