Curlers love our 'Hat Lady'

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:24 AM ET

France Isabelle leans against the boards at the edge of the ice at Mile One Stadium, chatting with some of the friends she has made through the years at the Scott Tournament of Hearts. Colleen Jones walks by and the reigning world women's curling champ immediately recognizes her.

"Oh, that's the Hat Lady," says Jones.

For 19 consecutive years, Warrant Officer France Isabelle of the Canadian Forces, a member of the Rideau Curling Club in Ottawa, has been attending the Scott Tournament of Hearts.

'MY CHRISTMAS VACATION'

"This is my Christmas vacation," says the 46-year-old Orleans resident, who began a tradition of having a hat signed by the tournament competitors while attending her first women's national championship in 1987 in Lethbridge, Alta.

Since then, she has seen the top women's curlers compete in a sport she holds dear to her heart.

Each year, she volunteers at the tournament and helps the local committee with various tasks.

She carries a camera around the arena during most of the draws and snaps photographs of the competitors.

Isabelle has those photos developed and sends them to the players -- paying all the costs.

"I've made so many great friends in curling over the years," says Isabelle. "Every time a player comes to talk to me, it's a compliment to me. When the girls acknowledge who I am, that means a lot to me."

JONES IS GREATEST

Isabelle has seen many great players over the years but says there's no doubt in her mind that Jones is the greatest player in the sport's history -- men or women.

"When it's time to dig deep, they dig deeper," said Isabelle. "Every one of the players on that team gets their hands dirty when it's time to get the job done.

"You know, everybody loves to hate a winner, but everybody wants to be in her shoes."

Isabelle has written to every Canadian champion after their victory at the Scott to offer encouragement heading into the world championships.

"I'm always proud of whoever wears the Maple Leaf," she says. "I just want them to know that I'm behind them.

A few years ago on Canada Day, Jones was on Parliament Hill working for the CBC and hugged Isabelle when she spotted her in the crowd.

"She's definitely special," says Jones. "We have so many great fans who send us little presents or pictures or lucky things.

"But without her, sending us pictures and always being there all the time, she's really a constant presence at the Scott, and she's wonderful."

Isabelle already has the time booked off work for next year's Scott in London, Ont.

"As long as the good Lord is willing, I'll be there."

And we bet she'll be making a bunch of new friends.


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