As I lay floating in the pool this week, soaking up the 32 degree heat and observing not a cloud in the sky, I felt an inner calm and appreciation for the Swift Current summers. It wasn’t too long before my thoughts were interrupted with a splash as my “almost” 3 year old, cannon balls me – “watch me mummy!” Darby and I were enjoying our last days with family and friends before we would make our way to Scotland, so I could join the rest of my curling team and begin our summer on-ice training in preparation to represent Great Britain at the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, February 2018. I will join Eve’s team (Team GB) as their alternate player.
7 years after my last Olympic appearance, it is fair to say that things are a little different for me this time around. I live on the other side of the world from my teammates, I am married, have a full time job, have 2 steps kids, and little guy of my own. So, there is much to organize in my brain and life as part of this process, especially before I can go anywhere. When I just had to worry about myself, life was more simple – train, eat, sleep, compete, repeat – and I had the time and flexibility to plan my day accordingly. Now, my day consists of: get self ready, get little people organized, get to work, fit in a training session over lunch time, transport kids, prep dinner, clean up, play time with Darby, sports, homework, and bath and bed stories. By then, it’s after 9pm and I still haven’t hit the chores list. Typical day in the life of any parent. Luckily, I have a pretty amazing husband, so I’m not flying solo; however, it’s certainly a contrast from the old days of a single athlete – but I wouldn’t change a thing. In truth, adding training and curling business back to my daily routine has actually energized me, and having a family and house to run alongside of this, actually brings much needed perspective.
How did I get here?
After a disappointing result for our team at the Vancouver Olympics, I remember building Inukshuks by the water, reflecting on what could have been done differently and where I needed to go from there. Venting to one of the Team GB psychologists, I was distraught that all the work I put in and commitment I had given to the sport, seemed to count for nothing. The psychologist said to me at the time, “Kelly, if someone were to cut you down the middle, all they would see is curling…and life can’t be about one thing – it isn’t healthy.”
I was a little offended and challenged this perception that I had more in my life than curling. The truth was….I did not! Of course, I had a university degree and a great job before we became full time curlers, but all of my personal time was taken up with curling. I am sure many elite athletes can relate. I was pinning my happiness on the outcomes of my curling. There are no guarantees in sport, you can only do your best and it’s ignorant to assume that the world owes you something for doing your job. However, you become so focused and committed to your sport, that it absorbs you and you become the sport – that sport is all you are and all you know. So, naturally, it seems like the end of the world every time a result doesn’t go your way.
Like many, I began curling at a very young age and before I knew it, I had won junior, mixed, doubles, and ladies Scottish championships and a few medals at the Worlds and Europeans. During this time, I was fortunate to have traveled the word with my sport and meet many wonderful people. Curling really was my life, but it was time for change.
During my second Olympic training cycle, I was lucky enough to work with a first class psychologist, Kate. She was a prodigy of Professor Steve Peters, an English Psychiatrist who works in elite sport, author of Chimp Paradox (a must-buy book, by the way) and founder of Chimp Management Ltd. Long story short, Kate’s approach to psychology changed me. She challenged my view of myself, of others, and on life. I was a pretty strong-willed person, Type A personality with high expectations, and I thought I knew everything. So, on occasion, she had to be a real bitch in order for me to get the message. She basically shattered my belief system and hit the “reset” button for me. She forced me to develop as a person and a player by becoming more self-reflective, accountable, to better manage expectations and emotions, and to approach life logically. Her expertise gave me a sound skillset to transfer learning on the ice and in to my personal life. I am grateful to have learned so much.
So, in search of a more balanced lifestyle, recognizing that I wouldn’t be a curler forever, I set some new personal goals, signed up to complete a new diploma, and looked for new hobbies. I wanted to be open to new challenges, find someone to share my life with, and have a family. In the past, I wouldn’t have entertained any of that as it would’ve been a distraction from my curling.
Only a month later, in Swift Current at the World Championships, I met my “now” husband. I won’t bore you with the details again – it is a story that most of the curling world and much of Saskatchewan is familiar with. In 2011, I moved to Swift Current, leaving behind everything that was familiar.
I am often asked if I regret that decision. The answer is NO WAY. Of course, I miss my family/friends and the beautiful country, but even on the days where the toll of transitioning to a new country (where you don’t know anyone and everything is unfamiliar breaks you to tears), I knew I made the right decision. I think the hardest thing was finding a new support network and I battled finding a new identity – I had been “Kellycurls” for so long – now, who would I be…
Mental toughness allowed me to find my way and exercise kept me sane. Exercise was something that was part of my daily life before I moved and it needed to remain that way. Jarrod built a little gym in our basement and this was my retreat. I began planning life around work and family. All of a sudden, I was present for birthdays and social events that I would normally miss because we were at curling competitions, and I even took some holidays. Life was good and it wasn’t long before I made some great friends and found my own purpose and routine.
2013 was the joining of Canada in Scotland for a memorable wedding celebration and in 2014, I gave birth to the little boy we know as Darby Angus. Being responsible for the wellbeing of another little human is the hardest, yet most rewarding job I have ever done. I have a new found respect for parents.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the competitive side of curling; I played in Canada on the World Curling Tour and Mixed Championships, but I was never allowed to enter Canadian Championships due to citizenship regulations. Ironically, this has now worked in my favour.
In 2016, Swift Current, once again, hosted the World Curling Championships. I co-chaired the event and it was an insightful experience into the organization required to host such a championship. I thought that this may be the closest I would get to a major championship again. I was fearful that by the time I was eligible to play here in Canada, I would be ready to retire. Let’s face it, the standard of play and physical requirements of the sport today, aren’t conducive to 50 year olds anymore – sorry, Glen Howard! (Glen is our team coach haha) The window of opportunity to play at an elite level gets smaller each year.
Perhaps in a similar twist of fate that brought me to Canada in the first place, I am back on the curling train and I get to return to the sport that I dearly love, competing for the country that holds my heart. Last year, I was fortunate to get a call from Eve to step in to replace Anna, who had an injury. I played half the season on the team and the remaining time supporting the ladies as their 5th player. Luckily enough for me, a lot of the events were in Canada, so that meant I was never too far from home. I traveled back and forth to Scotland for training and it was a great opportunity to see my family and friends in Scotland, too. In June of this year, it was formally announced that I would also be part of Team GB for the Olympics and I feel privileged to join some of the best curlers and support staff in the world. It’s even better when you can call them “friends.”
So, here we are!
If it isn’t fate that brought me here then, at the very least, I am certainly grateful for all the moving parts that have coincided to allow for me this opportunity. Most of all, I am grateful to my husband for recognizing how important curling still is in my life and for taking charge of our home, our family, and our life in my absence to allow me to do this. It is a proud moment for me to have my little boy share in what was mummy’s first love.
Selfishly, I want to be able to have Darby with me on my trips to Scotland – I’m not sure I could do it otherwise. I feel lucky to have a supportive family in Scotland who have taken on the responsibility of looking after Darby while I am training and competing in Europe – what an amazing opportunity for Darby to spend time in my homeland, and with his Scottish family.
I am thankful that I have a supportive employer – The City of Swift Current – for allowing me to take a leave of absence from my day job to compete for an Olympic medal. I am also grateful to STRIDE for offering me all the support staff and services I need during this time. I was one of the first to sign up with STRIDE when they opened and I love the training environment there.
As we get ready to hit the road, there is a little lump in my throat. I hate goodbyes, and even more so, when contemplating the idea of taking Darby away from his Daddy, family, and comforts of home for long periods of time. Jarrod tells Darby he’ll miss him when he is gone and Darby responds by telling him “I will come back, Daddy” – the sound reason of our little toddler who is excited for his adventure and focused on playing with his BBQ and toy Lorries at his Nai Nai and Bumpa’s house. He’s bringing a little bit of home with him as he’ll be one of the only kids in Scotland playing “Blue Jays” and “hockey boys.”
By nature, I am a pretty independent person, so it isn’t an easy thing for me to have to ask for help or be so dependent on so many people, especially when the big ask is something for myself. But with everything and everyone in place, I am ready to enjoy all that this experience has to offer.
More from Bonnie Scotland in the coming weeks…