Paralympian has new lease on life

CON GRIWKOWSKY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

Curling has taken its toll on Vancouver's Jim Armstrong.

The six-time Brier participant -- twice as a skip -- was part of yesterday's unique opening ceremonies.

There was the traditional bagpipe band, with the Edmonton Transit Band doing the honours this year. There were introductions of Canada's former curling Olympians and possible future Olympians.

Proud mom and dad Heather and Dave Nedohin stood proudly at ice level as their seven-year-old daughter Halle sang a stirring rendition of O Canada.

When it came time to throw the ceremonial first rock, though, tradition was thrown out the window.

One opening rock was delivered on each of the four sheets. And there on Sheet D, holding the broom while sitting in his wheelchair, was Armstrong.

Even though Armstrong found the idea of holding an Olympic wheelchair qualifier at the same time as a Canadian curling trials compelling, he figured it might be an idea best saved for sometime in the future.

"You know what? Wheelchair curling is still a little young," said the personable Armstrong, a former dentist.

"We've certainly got the infrastructure, but we don't quite have enough bodies yet. It's coming, but we're only eight or nine years in Canada. Give it a few years and, yeah, it might make sense."

Armstrong appeared in two Edmonton Briers, in 1973 and 1987, the latter as part of the Bernie Sparkes-skipped team that lost the final at the AgriCom to Russ Howard.

Armstrong will skip Team Canada at Paralympics, being held in his home town a couple of weeks after the Olympic Games.

"You've got to have all the stars aligned right to be playing at something right at home," said Armstrong.

"Curling's been good to me over the years. I like to give a little back now. This wheelchair curling has given me a new lease on life and allowed me to keep curling. Actually, I think wheelchair curling is going to be the growth area of curling for the next 10 years."

Curling took a toll on Armstrong's body over the years.

"I worked at it," he said. "Double knee replacements, and I had a bad back.

"Then I got into a car accident (in 2003) and put my new knee into the dashboard. It wasn't an overnight thing. It took years of hard work getting the speed up."

There was a bit of contention when Armstrong was ruled eligible for wheelchair curling a couple of years back.

Although he damaged his knee enough that he needs a cane to get around, he's not exclusively wheelchair-bound.

At the same time, his personality and skill level has given Canada a high-profile representative who has a good chance at a Paralympics medal.

Armstrong uses a stick to deliver the rock now and can enjoy the game without the pain that sidelined him into a coaching role for several years.

"It's good in the sense that I throw more rocks than I ever did able-bodied," said Armstrong.

"You don't have bad knees to deal with anymore. I'm more of a rink rat now than I was in the last few years of my able-bodied days.

"Why? Because you can. I'll throw a couple of hundred (rocks) a day now, where I used to throw 100.

"There's a little more initiative now than in the old days, when it was a job to throw them.

"Now, it's all fun."

When the ceremonies were over, Armstrong took his seat in the stands.

He already has his spot in the Paralympics.

Like everybody else at Rexall Place yesterday, he's now got his eyes on those who are still chasing the dream.

CON.GRIWKOWSKY@SUNMEDIA.CA

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CON GRIWKOWSY'S SUPER SHOT

HOLLAND VS. JONES

Angle-raise, double-takeout by Tammy Schneider, 9th end

With Amber Holland up 6-5 in the ninth end, Jennifer Jones has a rock buried behind two guards on top of the four-foot. Holland's second Tammy Schneider, right, executed a tricky angle raise double takeout to clear all the Jones stones, allowing Holland to score the decisive deuce in an 8-5 win.

"Amber called a double peel and it just worked out that it (shot rock) went through the hole," said Schneider. "I was just trying to get the top two but definitely, it worked out well for us."


Photos