Lee Merklinger's tired but glad she travelled to halfway around the world to curl.
The Ottawa native and second for Ontario powerhouse Team Sherry Middaugh just returned from China, where her rink represented Canada in the Yichun International Ladies Curling Competition.
Between sightseeing and enjoying the local cuisine, the squad won the event and 40,000 yuan ($6,400) prize money. They defeated their Chinese host, Bingyu Wang, 7-5 in the final.
"Sherry was on fire (in the final)," said Merklinger. "She threw a thin double for three in the last end and it took the wind out of their sails. It was upsetting for China to lose at home."
The Canadians were amazed by how well they were treated during their two-week stay.
"They didn't spare any expense," said Merklinger. "Each team had a translator. We even had a police escort wherever we went."
Besides the Great Wall, the highlight of their trip was walking around in Halloween costumes — not an event celebrated in China. "About 250 people took our pictures," said Merklinger.
Some things were difficult to get used to.
"They smoke everywhere, even in the arena. And the traffic is insane. It's a miracle that no one gets killed," said Merklinger.
Still, her and teammates cherished their trip.
"We missed two Slams when we were away, but China was a trip of a lifetime," she said.
They're now back to Canadian curling reality, gearing up to defend their title at this weekend's Rogers Masters of Curling in Brantford.
The talent of Ontario women's teams runs deep, and Merklinger said the top rinks are "having a pretty good time this year and all doing well."
Team Middaugh is most looking forward to the Capital One Canada Cup at the end of November. With only seven teams competing, chances are good at grabbing an Olympic trials spot for the 2014 Sochi Games.
"If we get a trials spot our lives are so much easier," said Merklinger.
Their Ottawa rival, Team Rachel Homan, has the same goal but isn't competing in the Canada Cup.
They made it to the semi-finals on Monday in Saskatoon's Colonial Square Ladies Classic, where they lost 5-3 in the last end to Chelsea Carey of Winnipeg.
The Rogers Masters marks the debut of Rogers Sportsnet as a major curling broadcaster. The channel will broadcast preliminary games beginning Thursday at noon and 3:30 p.m. Friday games are on at 3:30 and 7 p.m., the Saturday evening quarter-finals at 8:30, with the semis slated for Sunday morning at 8. Sunday afternoon's final switches to CBC at 1:30. CBC's team of Mike Harris and Joan McCusker will be joined by play-by-play man Rob Foulds on both networks. All times are eastern.
The national mixed begins Saturday in Montreal at the Town of Mount Royal Curling Club. Ontario is represented by Cory Heggestad, Heather Marshall, Greg Balsdon and Amy Mackay. Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, the Yukon and Nunavut play down Thursday and Friday to see which two advance to the round-robin. The losers go home.
Lauren Horton has claimed another victory by winning the Huntley junior spiel on Sunday. She curled with Andrea Sinclair, Leigh Gustafson and Jessica Armstrong. The men's side was captured by Chris Lewis, with Ryan McCrady, Matthew Haughn and Cole Lyon-Hatcher.
The Tankard Tune Up begins Friday at the Ottawa with a men's, women's and open section ... The Dominion Club Championship begins Monday in Scarborough. The Buckingham rink skipped by Richard Faguy is the Quebec rep ... Kudos to the OVCA for offering facilities $500 if they start bantam non-competitive leagues.