Strong's in the swim of things

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Around the Scott Tournament of Hearts, there are loads of athletes who've been involved in a wide range of sports.

The resumes are dotted with softball, running, golf, volleyball, water-skiing, weight training, skiing. There's a crowd of campers among them, tennis players, snow-boarders, skaters and even, in the case of Prince Edward Island's Trisha Affleck, an equestrian/harness racer/track announcer.

Heather Strong's Newfoundland rink has a poker player (Shelley Nichols) and a kayaking yoga competitor (Susan O'Leary).

Strong lists in-line skating as her interest. But that's not all.

Each of the above-listed sports have had some carry-over value to the competitive curler, to be sure, but one is hard-pressed to find something from Strong's other competitive sport that has served her in her rink's hot streak this week.

It's synchronized swimming.

Synchronized swimming? The sport where you go under to get to the top, the pinch-nosed pool ballet sometimes unkindly referred to as ballroom drowning?

OK, you have to hold your breath in curling sometimes, too. And it's not a bad idea to maintain that smile while everything is crashing down around you.

But water doesn't translate easily to ice, unless you're involved in a particularly shoddy bonspiel. And while the spotlight's on in both sports, half the swimmer's work is hidden below the surface.

Still, the two-time Canada Games competitor said competitive synchronized swimming added to her competitive curling instincts.

"Synchronized swimming is the hardest sport I've ever had to do," the St. John's aquatic centre manager said after the gals from The Rock scored their sixth straight win in yesterday's morning draw, a ninth-end, tiebreaking exclamation point to defeat Prince Edward Island 9-6.

"You have to hold your breath for long periods and there's a great amount of flexibility involved, so every time I throw a rock, breathe and stay dry, I feel blessed," she added with a laugh.

The sports diverge markedly, though.

"Curling is so easy by comparison -- physically," she added with obvious meaning.

Psychologically, not so much, and she would know. Her rink's success at this rock concert is one it has more than earned.

It's a story anybody who has ever encountered a losing streak can appreciate. Worse, it came in front of hopeful fans at Mile One Stadium in St. John's at last year's Hearts tournament.

After a first-match loss to eventual champion Jennifer Jones, the Newfoundland rink won its second game. Then, the wheels fell off as the Newfoundlanders tumbled to nine consecutive losses. Strong had never gone into a tank like that, synchronized swimming or otherwise.

Whatever won't kill you might cure you and the experience made Strong and company, well, strong.

"It was a long week, and very frustrating, but we learned some valuable lessons we were able to put to use this year," she said.

She said the squad, together five years now, is meshing better as a unit and putting together better team shots. As Canada's men's Olympic hockey team is apt to tell you, team play at the upper levels of a sport is paramount.

Again yesterday, the Strong rink showed an ability to absorb a tough end and bounce back. Suzanne Gaudet's P.E.I. rink scored an impressive four during the fourth end, but Strong didn't wobble.

"We're making a lot of shots and if you give up a few points, you have to make shots to come back," she said. "We're putting rocks in the right position early. And we're got fantastic sweepers and a bigger margin of error as a result of it."

There are obvious parallels developing with another Newfoundland rink, Brad Gushue's Newfoundland men's squad that won the Olympic gold medal. It's a tad unfair this early.

But if you're waiting for Heather Strong to fold, don't hold your breath.

She isn't holding hers anymore.


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