It's been said that in another generation -- two at the most -- every competitive curler in Canada is going to be related.
It's a joke, of course. But like all good jokes, it's funny because it's also kind of true.
There are few groups of Canadians more tight-knit than the tiny group of elite men's and women's curlers who spend their winter weekends curling on the bonspiel circuit.
The combination of cold weather, warm lounges and tight quarters has, over the years, given new meaning to the term 'mixed curling'. A chance meeting outside the locker-rooms in Lloydminster begets late drinks the following weekend in Weyburn and by the time you're in Moosimin, you're Canada's newest curling couple.
Rinse and repeat.
But what happens when all these couples suddenly turn up at the biggest bonspiel of them all -- the one that begins this Sunday at the MTS Centre where Canada's men's and women's representatives in curling at the 2014 Winter Olympics will be determined?
There will be at least four couples competing among the eight men's and eight women's teams at this year's Roar of the Rings -- Ontario's Wayne and Sherry Middaugh; Alberta's David and Heather Nedohin; Manitoba's Mike and Dawn McEwen (née Askin); and Manitoba's Jennifer Jones and Ontario's Brent Laing.
We say 'at least' four curling couples because it's not like they keep track of such things in a program somewhere. And this winter has been, after all, unusually cold on the Prairies.
So what's it going to be like to be competing in the biggest event of your life at the exact same time your partner is doing the exact same thing?
Complicated seems to be the concensus.
"It's hard," says Dawn McEwen, the longtime lead for Jennifer Jones who married her longtime off-ice partner earlier this year. "If this were an event that I wasn't competing in, I'd be at his beck and call -- whatever he needed to perform well. But obviously that's not going to happen.
"We've talked about it and decided that what's best for us is for both of us to just kind of do our own things next week. We're not even going to watch each other's games at the arena. It's just added stress that neither of us needs. If Mike's game is on TV, yeah, I will watch. But I'm not going to sit in the arena and gnaw my fingers off sitting because I'm so nervous.
"It's so stressful to watch him play. I'd rather compete myself all day long than have to watch him -- and especially at an event as important as this."
And while the McEwens will have the luxury of curling at home next week, they won't actually be living together at home. Such is the importance of this event that all four of the Winnipeg-based teams that will be curling at the MTS Centre -- McEwen, Jones, Jeff Stoughton and Chelsea Carey -- are checking into downtown hotels later this week to minimize outside distractions and put themselves on a level playing field with the other 12 out-of-town teams that will also be competing.
Therein lies the paradox of the curling couples competing next week: At a time when you could most use the support of a partner who knows what you're going through better than most, that partner will be almost completely absent.
"I've thought about it a lot," says Mike McEwen. "This is one of those events where women are on one draw and men are on the other. And between games you're looking to recover, you're looking to be mentally prepared and rested again. And does that mean watching all your spouse's games?
"I don't know. Depends how things are going, I guess. And it depends on whether I want to be stressed watching the other half curl. It will definitely be a balancing act... It's a consideration -- you want to control your distractions and be mentally ready to go every game. And so how much do you want to take in of what your spouse is doing?
"I think you need to be mindful and try to avoid adding any extra stress if you can do it."
Of course, as stressful as competing together at a Trials event is going to be, it will all be worth it if one of these curling couples manages to actually both win and become not just Olympians but also one of the very rarest types -- one who has competed alongside a spouse at the same Olympic Games.
"Can you imagine? What a once in a lifetime opportunity that would be," says Jones, whose partner, Laing, curls second for Ontario's Glenn Howard. "I can't even imagine at this point what a thrill that would be to go to the same Olympic Games as Brent. For one of us to go would be unbelievable. But both of us?
"It's hard to imagine. It really is."
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