By Nolan Kowal, Sport Performance Specialist

By Tara Funke

This fall four young Manitobans returned home from Aberdeen, Scotland as World Mixed Curling Champions. The team, as described by skip Colin Kurz, is a group of competitive curlers who are also great friends on and off of the ice. The squad included vice-skip Meghan Walter, second Brendan Bilawka and lead Sara Oliver.

This was only the 5th edition of the World Mixed Curling Championships. The first-ever event was in 2015, which is also the year that Kurz and Bilawka represented our province at the Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C. The long-time teammates won gold in B.C. and according to Kurz, the games fueled his desire to do much more within the sport.

In between curling practice, university assignments, and shifts at a local daycare we caught up with the skip to find out more about his recent overseas curling experience. He shared, “It was an honour and lifelong dream for the team to wear the maple leaf and represent Canada.”

The 8-day event began with 40 teams and for our local curlers, it was great to have some single game days early in the week. The extra time allowed them to experience more of Scotland including a trip to a castle, and opportunities to mingle with other teams which enhanced their overall trip.

With the team ranging in age from 17-22, it is understandable that nerves were high when they took to the ice. Their first round robin game was against Germany skipped by 3-time Olympian and well-known Andy Kapp. Kurz pointed out Kapp was very friendly and made their game a memorable moment at the event. He added the team from Nigeria also provided a unique experience that they’ll never forget.

As expected, the Nigerian curlers are more novice but were thrilled to be on the ice with athletes from Canada. Kurz explained, “The game started out serious of course as it’s a world event, but it turned into a really fun time. The Nigerian participants love the game of curling and asked many questions because they truly want help to become better.”

According to Kurz the photo of him with the skip from Nigeria is one of his favourites from the championships. There were a number of teams from other countries fairly new to the game such as Kosovo, Brazil, and Turkey.

Overall, the Canadian line-up was impressed with how the event played out with help from knowledgeable and friendly volunteers, and support from top-notch spectators. Kurz understands the World Mixed Curling Championships is not the top of the line but says it is important for growth. According to him, “It’s a non-Olympic event where you can still take a tier 2 team full of competitive curlers for development… it can only do good.”

When we discussed development Kurz mentioned a few times how the Canada Games experience in 2015 provided a good platform to build on. His personal highlights included cheering on other Team Toba athletes, hanging out in the village, and learning how to truly enjoy an event for more than the competition on the ice. He adds young curlers should focus on a goal like future Canada Games and work hard. Stick with it, and most of all enjoy the journey along the way.

The rest of the curling season will now continue. Our newly-crowned world champion women return to their junior team line-ups and are working towards winning a provincial championship. Team Manitoba alumni Kurz and Bilawka will now switch to their men’s team skipped by JT Ryan and are also aiming for a Manitoba title.