Zachary Curtis might just be the most tanned curler competing at the World Junior Curling Championship that wraps up Saturday.
Heck, he might just be the most tanned man in Aberdeen, Scotland, where the championship is being held.
Curtis’ bronzed complexion is thanks to a Hawaiian vacation just before he departed for Scotland with his Canadian junior champion teammates on Team Tardi: skip Tyler Tardi and his brother, Jordan, who’s the second, along with third Sterling Middleton.
On Thursday, the team qualified for the semi-finals that will be played Friday after they defeated Russia, 7-5, in the day's first draw. It was their sixth win against two losses in the round-robin portion of the competition with the final draw against Germany scheduled for later in the day.
As the team’s lead, Curtis wasn’t in Hawaii to secretly work on his in-turn at the tropical state’s only curling rink, the Ice Palace in Honolulu. He was there to get his head in the game.
The 18-year-old Gleneagle secondary school grad, who first cut his curling brush at the Coquitlam Curling Club, is a firm believer in the mental preparation and resilience required to rise to the top of the sport. As a former gold medalist at the BC juvenile boys championship and at the BC Winter Games, a silver medalist at the 2016 BC junior men’s championship and a new addition to Tyler Tardi’s Canadian junior men’s championship team, Curtis is well on his way.
In fact, Curtis’ whole approach to curling is analytical, since he was first swept into the sport after watching it during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. That’s when he decided he wanted to pursue an Olympic sport and curling would be his avenue.
Curtis’ best friend and also a curler, Jacob Umbach, took him under his wing to show him the mechanics and strategies of the sport, but it was the people that kept him going back to the Coquitlam Curling Club.
“To be a good curler, you have to be a good person,” Curtis said.
That means being a good communicator, able to receive and dispense constructive criticism without letting ego or personal feelings get in the way. It also requires a healthy balance of sport, work and life.
As he climbs curling’s competitive ladder, Curtis works with a sports counsellor to maintain an even mental keel and a yoga instructor to relax.
“You have to manage the mental and physical preparation,” Curtis said. “You want sport to be a part of your life, not be your life.”
Curtis joined Team Tardi at the beginning of the season after former lead Nick Meister aged out of the junior ranks.
Curtis and Tardi were fierce competitors when he was curling with Coquitlam’s Matthew McCrady, but he respected their ability, liked their team dynamic and thought they would be a good fit.
Curtis’ instincts were confirmed when his new teammates stepped up as he dealt with the loss of a family member earlier this season.
“The relationship has to be there,” Curtis said. “Once you set the team foundation, the curling just happens.”
Indeed it does, culminating with the team’s second Canadian junior curling championship in Shawinigan, Que., in January. That earned them the trip to Aberdeen, where Curtis hopes he’ll be able to help his new mates amend their crushing defeat at the 2017 world junior championship in Gangneug, South Korea, when a loss to Norway in a tiebreaker sent the team home without a medal despite finishing second in round robin play.
A link to the World Junior Curling Championships, including video feeds and the latest results, can be found at worldcurling.org.
Success tinged with sadness
Zachary Curtis says his success on the ice is bittersweet this season as the curling club where he first learned the sport is set to close.
The Coquitlam Curling Club, at Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex, will cease operations after the last rock is thrown early this spring. Its members will be integrated into the Port Moody Curling Club and the ice sheet will be converted to the recreation facility’s third rink for hockey, ringette, figure and public skating.
Since the club was formed in 1963 it’s produced several top curlers and in 2016 it hosted the Scotties BC women’s championship.
Curtis and Sean Habkirk, whose team will compete for the boys U18 provincial championship in Salmon Arm March 13 to 18, are the next generation of the club’s curling success, with several others like Connor Kent as well as Matthew and Adam Fenton in the pipeline.
Curtis said the club’s situation as part of a full-service sports and leisure facility that includes a fitness centre and pool offers a unique opportunity for ambitious curlers to become better all-around athletes.
“When this club was at its prime, it was really enjoyable to combine the physical fitness component with curling,” he said.
Curtis said the club’s central location in a growing part of Metro Vancouver attracted lots of newcomers and top coaches.
“It has a really great energy,” he said.