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Special Olympics BC Burnaby curling teams going to national games in Calgary

Two local teams, the Wildcats and the Wolves, will represent Burnaby at the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in February

Every Saturday, rain, shine, or snow, Suzanne, April, and Mary Armstrong board a bus near their home in Burnaby to the nearest SkyTrain station. From there, they ride a train followed by another bus until they reach their destination: a curling rink in Delta. Each way takes about one hour, and they carry their curling equipment. Suzanne, 64, is the mother of April, 28, and Mary, 32. The three women play on Special Olympics BC Burnaby all-female curling team, the Wildcats, which recently qualified for the Canada Special Olympics Winter Games, happening in Calgary in February

Burnaby Wildcats Special Olympics curling team. From left to right: Tony Maniezzo (coach) , Suzanne Armstrong, Mary Armstrong, April Armstrong, Artisia Wong, Kim Davies, Debra Colvin (coach)

Suzanne started her Special Olympics journey 44 years ago, joining an impressive list of sports. “I’ve participated in hockey, basketball, baseball, bowling, softball, and soccer,” Suzanne told the Beacon. She even met her husband, Darryl, during Special Olympics training. “It’s been 44 years. I used to play hockey with my husband, and we won trophies and medals.” But she was a newcomer to her daughters’ curling team. 

Mary and April had been curling for a few years when their mother decided to try and join them in 2014. “I said you have to earn that spot. You don’t get put on the team just because they’re your daughters,” coach Debra Colvin said. “Suzanne has some mobility issues that prevent her from delivering a rock from the hack; they have the option to use a stick.” This involves walking and delivering the rock at the end of a stick, instead of launching it down the ice by hand from a crouching position. 

She really proved herself. Within a few years I was amazed at her consistency and she had great line, she had great weight, she was making shots, she was positioned to be placed with her two daughters, so we made it happen,” Colvin said. “It’s been a really good fit.”  

Although curling together has presented some challenges, the Armstrongs say it has brought them closer. “The best part is that you get to do it as a family, you get to be together, you get to enjoy things together. Sometimes it’s a challenge…but we have fun and we enjoy it,” Mary said.  

From left: Suzanne, April and Mary Armstrong. Photo: Debra Colvin

April is the youngest in the family, but on the team she is the Armstrong with the most curling experience. She’d been training for track and field when Colvin convinced her to try curling. Mary used to go everywhere with April, and she eventually decided to join the sport, too, and now she plays skip, the team’s leader. Suzanne used to accompany them at the time because they were both underage. 

“We’re just hooked,” Mary said. “We even watch it on TV. We watch the pros play and keep up with what they’re doing. We try to learn those new skills and see if we can try them.”

While the City of Burnaby has supported the Special Olympics in several ways, such as providing facilities at the lowest possible rate for activities such as swimming or sports on artificial turf, curling has declined in popularity in recent years.

“Curling was very big in Burnaby for many years. There was the Burnaby Winter Club and the McPherson Club, those have gone to the wayside,” said Paul Colvin, Debra Colvin’s husband  who is also a coach. Over time, the curling clubs started losing attendance, and in the case of the Winter Club, it became an issue of hockey vs curling, with the more popular hockey winning out. 

Finding a suitable space to practice curling continues to be a struggle. When the curling team tried to book a space at Royal City Curling in New Westminster, “because of their popularity, there’s no ice time for us,” Debra Colvin said. “We’ve asked them over the years if we can get our program there. But because our athletes are working, we can’t take anything during the week. It has to be during the weekend, and it’s just full. It’s full with longterm programs they’ve had going on forever. We’ve had no success getting our athletes into a curling rink locally, so we got ice in Delta,” Despite the long commute, Debra said the athletes have never wavered in their commitment to their sport.  

Even with the long commute and lack of facilities, there is one advantage to commuting to Delta every weekend: Special Olympics teams from Delta and Surrey also practice there. All six sheets of ice at the rink are in use and dedicated to Special Olympics programs, and it has fostered relationships and friendships between the teams.

From left: Paul, Bridget and Debra Colvin. Photo: Debra Colvin

The Colvins and Armstrongs are excited to be taking part in the Canada Winter Games in Calgary from Feb. 27-Mar. 2. Five teams are going from BC, including two teams from Burnaby: the all-female Wildcats, and a mixed-gender team, the Wolves. Paul Colvin coaches the Wolves, and the Colvins’ daughter, Bridget, is on the team, too. In total at the national games, 110 athletes from around Canada will participate in curling, making up 22 teams with 44 coaches.

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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