Brier transforms 'regular guys' into rock stars

PATRICK MALONEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:29 PM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- It's not every day people line up for an autograph from a substitute teacher.

Or TV viewers tune in by the hundreds of thousands to watch an accountant do his thing.

Or reporters clamour to get a few bon mots from a guy who runs the local fish and chips shop.

But that's exactly what happens for one week every year at the Brier, an event that showcases Canada's finest curlers ... when they're not working their day jobs.

Plucked from the obscurity of their work-a-day lives, they become one-week 'rock' stars -- and arguably the highest-profile athletes in the country.

"We're just regular guys who happen to be decent at something, that's how we look at it," said Steve Gould, the Manitoba lead who owns his own roofing company.

While the 38-year-old father of two admits the Brier is a rare experience for otherwise normal guys, getting here isn't easy.

Gould recounts his typical practice schedule, which involves picking up skip Jeff Stoughton -- an Air Canada manager -- and spending daily lunch breaks throwing rocks.

The high-flying Brier is great, though regular life has a way of keeping curling's very best grounded, Gould says.

"We won the provincial championship. I walked in the door and my five-year-old said 'Dad, can you come downstairs? I want to take a few shots on you.'

"Literally, five minutes after. (At the Brier) you're a rock star for a week but the reality is we're not rock stars."

Curling has long been praised as one of the most inclusive games anywhere. Regardless of age, health and skill, everyone is welcome.

So perhaps it's fitting that even the very best seem like the Canadian everyman.

That's certainly part of the draw for fans like Randy Oleksiw of London, who lined up Tuesday to get the autographs of the Northwest Territories/Yukon team. That foursome is made up of a government worker, operations manager, business owner and mine manager.

"What I really like about this sport is it's not this hyped-up, trumped-up, million-dollar athletes. These guys are down to earth," said Oleksiw. "You can meet any one of these guys and ask them about their sport."

Even the game's best work day jobs.

Glenn Howard, for example, runs a Beer Store and Kevin Martin owns a curling shop.

Could the sport ever offer a full-time income for its elite?

If that was going to happen, Gould figures it would have been in 1996, when someone tried to start a national pro league.

Gould was a member of the Winnipeg Brickmen. Unfortunately, the league lasted just one event before collapsing.

So for now, the Brier -- which is drawing hundreds of thousands of TV viewers daily -- will have to do. And that's fine by players like Rick Sawatsky, British Columbia's lead.

The week of accolades, though, does take a bit of getting used to, the utilities technician says.

"Sometimes you've just got to shrug your shoulders and say 'Are you sure you want your picture taken with me?'"


Videos

Photos