Curling may be good for health of women

RANDY RICHMOND, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

LONDON, ONT. - Forget the image promoted in endless commercials, TV shows and sports pages of small-town life unified by the hockey rink.

For many small-town Canadian women and girls, curling is the sport keeping their endangered communities and their winter spirits alive.

A study partly completed by Western health researcher Bevery Leipert has found that in Ontario, at least, women see curling as a lot more than a chance to throw a few rocks down a sheet of ice.

“It is much more than the curling. It sustains rural community life,” said Leipert, first chair of rural women’s health research at the University of Western Ontario.

Curling gives women and girls physical activity in towns where there are often no recreation centres and the hockey rinks are jammed with men and boys, she said.

“Curling may be only one of two things or the only thing to do in a community in the winter, especially for women and girls.”

The sport also gives them the chance to get to know people in areas where long winter nights and long drives can isolate, she said.

That’s becoming even more relevant as rural communities across the country become smaller.

“Your grocery store might be gone, your churches may be closing, but the curling rink stays,” Leipert said.

But like other elements of small town life, curling is under attack. It’s difficult to keep clubs going as the populations of small towns age and there are fewer memberships to finance the sport.

And female curlers in small towns complain they’re not on an equal playing rink compared to the coaching and attention male curlers get.

When the three-year study is completed in 2012, Leipert hopes to make recommendations to Sport Canada on ways to keep curling alive in small communities. The federal agency is funding the study, supported by researchers at Dalhousie University, and the universities of Waterloo and Manitoba.

The three-year study, due to be completed in 2012, is examining the importance of curling in eight rural communities in Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories.

The research in Ontario, based on one town of 1,000 and one of 5,000 in the southwest, is complete.

Fifteen women and girls, aged 12 to 71, five living on a farm and 10 living in town, took part.

In each community, women and girls were given cameras and instructed to take photographs of how curling affects their mental, physical and emotional health and the health of their community.

They were also asked to keep logbooks of curling activities and its importance.

“Photovoice” research works differently than straight surveys and is especially effective in rural communities among women, Leipert said.

Traditional studies involves a researcher telling someone the questions to answer.

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