NO one ever knows how long a high-end curling career will last, and so Barb Spencer never bet she'd make battling for an Olympic spot a motherly affair.
Sometimes, these things just have a way of happening. Almost three decades after Spencer made her curling debut, the three-time Manitoba champion (once with sister Darcy at the helm) is heading to the Road to the Roar Olympic pre-trials in Kitchener, Ont., with daughter Katie, 22, serving as third. The tournament kicks off on Tuesday, with a dozen each of men's and women's teams competing for a chance to be at the main trials in Winnipeg next month.
It's a proud moment, for Spencer, and one she calls a dream come true.
"To play with my daughter is amazing," Spencer said on Friday, three days before flying off to Ontario to prepare for the spiel. "There's not too many people who can do that, but luckily I'm still able to play at an elite level. When she was younger, I wasn't sure how long I would be playing."
Well, here she is, with a slightly rejigged rink as well. Raunora Westcott is throwing lead, Katie Spencer joined up in 2012, and Jenna Loder came in as second just this year. Loder, who curled third for Cathy Overton-Clapham for a time, brought a sharp throw and an upbeat vibe.
"She's a really positive person, and it's important to have positive people on the team," Spencer said.
Ahead, the Spencer rink has a tough battle. They come into the Road to the Roar seeded 11th, and will face the sixth-seeded Amber Holland on Tuesday in the first game of the triple-knockout competition. Whoever wins that one will then tackle third-ranked Renee Sonnenberg, and from there, who knows. But on the horizon is a chance to be one of two teams added to the Roar of the Rings Olympic trials at the MTS Centre, and that's a jolly prize indeed.
"I think Manitobans would love to have another Manitoban team, a male and a female rep, and we would love to be there," Spencer said. "We would love to play in front of a hometown crowd."
Rob Fowler would agree. Kitchener marks the first time the Brandonite has skipped an Olympic pre-trial event. He threw third for Jeff Stoughton at the 2009 trials, where they came in third, and hopes that experience will help his rink keep steady. "I think the biggest thing, having gone through the trials process before, is not to get away from the regular routine," Fowler said. "Stick with what you know works. I think sometimes, teams can get caught up in the event."
Heading into Kitchener, Fowler said his team, which includes Derek Samagalski, Brendan Taylor and Allan Lyburn, feel good about their chances. The team's been competitive so far this year: They made it to the quarter-finals in two of their first three World Curling Tour spiels this year, where unfortunately they fell to reigning Olympic champ Kevin Martin each time.
Now, Fowler will head into Kitchener seeded ninth, set to face the eighth-seeded Toronto rink of Greg Balsdon Tuesday. The winner will face reigning Brier champion Brad Jacobs, so the going will get tough in these pre-trials quickly. But that's curling for you.
"Doesn't really matter who's on the other side," Fowler said. We're just excited to get going. I can't wait to get another Manitoba team in the trials."