It’s an old saying that an event has been ‘a long time coming’, but never has that been more true than for the Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships beginning Monday at the Moose Jaw Curling Centre.
The event was originally to be held in the Friendly City back in the spring of 2021, but the pandemic put those plans on hold. It was then rescheduled for 2022, and the omicron variant saw to it that the event was once again cancelled.
Now, three years since the Canadian championship was last contested, it’s all systems go.
And you’ll find few competitors more excited for the whole thing than Moose Jaw wheelchair curling veteran Marie Wright, who will play third on Saskatchewan 1.
“It’s very cool and it’s been a long time in the making,” Wright said prior to teams taking to the ice for practice on Sunday afternoon. “A lot of work goes into hosting one of these and then you get told you can’t host it, that’s pretty tough. And it’s also exciting to see everybody, to see the people and not just talk to them on Zoom and stuff like that. So we’re all looking forward to finally getting to play this.”
Wright, of course, is no stranger to the sport in the province and on the national scene. A perennial member of Team Canada, Wright won bronze at the 2018 Paralympic Games and most recently joined forces with Sask 1 skip Gil Dash to help Canada win silver at the 2023 World Championships in Richmond, B.C.
There’s little question that her success in the sport has helped it grow immensely not only in Moose Jaw, but across the province, and led to the quality of players currently taking part in the game for Saskatchewan this week.
“It’s very much a legacy I’m proud of, it’s something I’ll always remember and never forget and it’ll always be grateful,” Wright said of being an inspiration for many players around her. “It’s kind of weird when you think about that, but it’s pretty neat just the same.”
Joining Wright and Dash on Saskatchewan 1 are second Darwin Bender and lead Moose Gibson, who is also serving as the tournament chair.
Playing for Saskatchewan 2 are skip Rod Pederson, third Stewart McKeown -- himself a multiple-time former Paralympian -- second Sheryl Pederson and lead Russell Whitsitt.
Both crews will have home-ice advantage this week, and that’s something Wright hopes will lead to a solid showing for both teams.
“It’s so exciting that it’s in my hometown and to be able to play here,” Wright said. “You get back from Worlds and you get to stay home, you don’t have to travel again and you can sleep in your own bed. And the fans, it’s going to be great having people cheering for us here all week.”
One thing that’s for certain is there will be no shortage of elite competition. Ontario 1 includes Team Canada skip Jon Thurston along with mixed doubles competitors Karl Allen and Collinda Joseph, while B.C. features Team Canada’s Ina Forrest. And that’s not including the host of up-and-coming players who will be aiming for national team spots themselves in the future.
But that hasn’t hurt Saskatchewan’s confidence in the least, and the goal for both crews is gold.
“There are a lot of great players here and it’s going to be a tough competition, for sure,” Wright said. “Our team hasn’t changed a lot so I’m pretty confident. We didn’t get as many practices as we would have liked together because Gil and I were gone a lot, but I still think we’re going to be really competitive.”
Beyond winning, the overall goal is to help continue the sport to grow with a solid week of competition, and ideally see even more teams in action in the future.
“We need it to continue to grow, too, we’re trying to get more people out,” Wright said. “We’ve been working on trying to get more people involved and mentoring them, and there are new curlers coming out like Stewart (McKeown) even here in Saskatchewan. So we’ll just keep trying to build the game as much as we can.”
The first draw is set for 1 p.m. Monday, with Sask 1 taking on Northern Ontario, Sask 2 up against Quebec, Ontario 1 taking on Nova Scotia, Ontario 2 battling New Brunswick, Alberta 1 duelling Newfoundland and Alberta 2 taking on British Columbia.
Individual draw and full event tickets are available through www.sasktix.ca.