Passion for curling motivates Brier's volunteers

PATRICK MALONEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:07 PM ET

LONDON - A passion for curling prompted Alan Milliken to volunteer at the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier.

Of course, volunteering has kept him from actually watching the event so far.

Such is life for many of the 500 people doing the unpaid legwork this week -- the unsung troops without whom a big-league bonspiel couldn't be pulled off.

"It's fun to do this," said Milliken, a 61-year-old semi-retired Londoner who's driving athletes and VIPs around the city.

On Sunday morning he'd already put in about 30 hours of work at the Brier. While the early draws played out in the John Labatt Centre, Milliken was parked outside, awaiting his next passengers.

With a walkie talkie crackling instructions intermittently, he shrugged when asked about missing the big show inside.

"I can listen to it on the radio," he said with a smile.

The volunteers' sacrifices, though likely unnoticed by the tens of thousands of spectators who will pass through the JLC this week, aren't lost on the Brier's organizing committee.

"Without the volunteers this event would never happen," said Ann Lapchinski, who coordinated the unpaid army. "Their enthusiasm and dedication and smiles ... people have asked to do more shifts."

For some offering their time, there is a long-term benefit.

Many are members of the four local curling clubs -- St. Thomas, Highland, London and Ilderton -- that will get a share of the Brier's profits from the Canadian Curling Association.

Most, though, are just fans looking to help out. And there was no trouble finding 500 of them to take on roles, Lapchinski added.

"We had to shut it off," she said. "We basically turned volunteers away."

Put OPP Const. Scott Walker atop the list of visitors who took vacation from their day jobs to put in the equivalent of two weeks of work at the Brier.

Walker, who's overseeing the volunteers doing security, figures he's putting in "at least" 15 hours a day -- this after taking time off from his police post in Sault Ste. Marie to chip in at curling's biggest Canadian showcase.

"It's for the love of curling," he says when asked about his motivation.

He and the hundreds of other volunteers are doing everything from security to program sales, transportation to caring for the ice.

The dedication speaks to the passion of curling's loyal, if oft-overlooked, core of die-hard fans, Walker said.

"It's expanding and becoming a sport everyone wants to be at."

Not that volunteering doesn't offer a few little perks, too.

Milliken, for example, was tapped Thursday night to drive a few curlers from the airport to a downtown hotel. One passenger turned out to be curling legend Kevin Martin.

"Nice gentleman -- I was giving him some of the facts on London. The major companies that are here, the head offices," he said. "The opportunity to meet the (stars) of curling is good."

patrick.maloney@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/patatLFPress


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