Thompson curler will represent Canada at Deaflympics in Russia

It wasn't an arduous road to the top at the National Deaf Curling Trials for Thompsonite Brenda Davidson and her Manitoba teammates, all of whom are based in Winnipeg, but coming out on top earned them a trip to Russia for the Deaflympics next March.

"We didn't have to play too many games to win this year," said Davidson, who is hard of hearing after having lost some hearing as a child.

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Only two other provinces besides Manitoba - Alberta and Ontario - entered women's teams in the national competition this year, a reflection of the state of curling overall, Davidson says, a sport in which fewer people are participating than before.

But that doesn't mean it was smooth sailing for Davidson and her teammates Sylvia Sigurdson, Sarah Rabu and Donna McLeod, who lost their opening game to Alberta but found a way to beat them in their second match - for the right to represent Canada.

"We managed to beat them in the finals," said Davidson. "We were in control the whole game."

The Manitoba squad built up a 7-1 lead by the fourth end and from then on it was just a matter of time.

"We were calm and we were trying to maintain that lead," said Davidson. "The final end we ran them out of rocks."

Manitoba's men's team were also the champions at the National Deaf Curling Trials, as the province captured its first national championships in the sport since 2003.

A curler since the age of 12, Davidson comes from a family that is familiar with competition, her brother having participated at the world junior curling championships. She had been curling for several years before becoming involved in deaf curling at about 18 or 19 years old, which also served as an introduction to Winnipeg's deaf culture, with which she hadn't been very familiar until then, having attended school with hearing children.

Since then, she's competed in the Women's Deaf Canadian Championships twice - in 1999 and 2003 - winning gold the first time and silver the second, as well as the Mixed Deaf Canadian Championship, where she was the member of a gold medal-winning team in 2000 and the bronze medallists in 2007. She competed in the National Deaf Curling Trials in 2006 - the qualifier for the inaugural appearance of curling in the Deaflympics - ending up with the silver medal. She also competed in the Scotties' women's curling provincials in Morris in 2007, where her team got a taste of high-level competition right from the get-go.

"We curled Jennifer Jones in our first game," she recalls. "We held our own when we were there."

Davidson learned sign language after becoming involved with the deaf community in Winnipeg and says curling, which features communication via yelling in the hearing version, is not much different in the deaf community.

"There's visual yelling in our game," she says. "We just have to be really on the ball."

There is no talking on the ice during deaf curling, and Davidson takes that a step further when competing in deaf curling events.

"Just out of respect for the deaf community I don't vocalize at all the week that I'm there," she says.

Davidson didn't have much opportunity to play with her team prior to the tournament in Ottawa, which the team invited her to participate in, but she was familiar with two of her teammates, with whom she had curled while living in Winnipeg, as well as the mother of the foursome's other member.

Two of her teammates are deaf while the other is hard of hearing like Davidson.

The team has been assigned a team manager and will likely receive some funding from the government and deaf sport associations as representatives of Canada, but Davidson hasn't been apprised of all the details yet. They will be coached by Kathy Overton-Clapham, who has played on several top teams, including the Jones rink, and has five Canadian women's curling championships under her belt.

"She'll be spending lots of time with us," says Davidson.

Being based in Thompson will make it difficult for Davidson to practise often with her teammates, though she plans to spend some time with them when her job with the Society of Manitobans with Disabilities takes her to Winnipeg for meetings, as it regularly does. She'll be working out at the gym over the summer and then throwing rocks at the Burntwood Curling Club when the ice is back in the fall.

Davidson, who also started coaching Special Olympics curling here in Thompson this past season, says the fellow members of the Burntwood Curling Club are big supporters, with many of them chipping in to sponsor her recent trip to Ottawa.

"They're all very supportive and were really happy to hear I won," she said.

As someone who was taught by her father that curling was a "gentleman's game," Davidson, says she is always conscious of being a good sport and observing proper etiquette on the ice.

"I believe in team spirit and being a good sport," she says. "Those values will always be with me."

That said, she and her teammates are in it to win it.

"I think if we train very hard this year and work very hard, we have a chance to win," said Davidson.

But no matter what happens on the ice, she knows that just being in Russia - the Deaflympics, which are always played the year after the Olympics and Paralympics, will take place in Khanty-Mansyiysk, which is northeast of Sochi - will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"It'll be quite an experience," she says, noting that many of the athletes will be using different types of sign language and that it was hard to believe that her team had qualified. "It was kind of mind-blowing. Once it actually hits you that you're going, it's exciting."

It will also be the fulfillment of a dream she's held for a long time, of representing her country in curling.

"It's amazing," Davidson says. "It was always in my dreams. I didn't know if I've ever have the chance. I'm thrilled. We've got a very good team."

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