Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Toba's fairy-tale story slipping away

Despite struggle at Scotties, Overton-Clapham second Wilson cherishing the moments

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CHARLOTTETOWN -- It is in the nature of this event -- spread out as it is over 10 days, all of it broadcast coast-to-coast in highly defined detail -- that when things go badly for a team, it can easily spiral nightmarishly so.

The mistakes get amplified, the nervous energy turns to bad energy, the confidence seeps away and the second-guessing sets in. Bad ends beget bad games beget bad days and the next thing you know, the entire country is watching, listening and rubber-necking the car crash that is your dream gone badly.

And so it is at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this week for Manitoba's Cathy Overton-Clapham. With yet another loss Monday -- a 7-6 defeat to Quebec's Marie-France Larouche -- Manitoba has lost three in a row, fallen to 1-4 and heads into today in a tie for last place.

It is not, suffice to say, the feel-good script that many were expecting from Team Manitoba. That story was supposed to see Overton-Clapham achieve both revenge and redemption, righting the wrong many perceive was done to her when she was fired from Team Canada last spring by her former skip, Jennifer Jones.

Alas, real life has gotten in the way of the fairy tale in that maddening way real life does.

And watching it all from a front-row seat is Manitoba second Leslie Wilson, who knows perhaps better than anyone on her team how quickly fairy tales can turn to tragedy.

-- -- --

The fairy tale came first for Wilson. It began in January 2010 with a Manitoba championship for the 31-year-old environmental specialist.

It was the first provincial title for Wilson, who grew up in a curling family -- her father Gerry has curled competitively -- and the trip the next month to the Canadian championship in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., was the culmination of a dream come true.

And she made the most of it. Curling second for Jill Thurston, Wilson shot 78 per cent during the week and finished third among seconds in shooting percentage -- behind only B.C.'s Sasha Carter and Canada's Jill Officer, a pair of former world champions widely considered the premier players at their position.

The Thurston team finished respectably, losing a tiebreaker game. But Wilson's event ended spectacularly. On the Saturday of the final weekend, her boyfriend, Brandy Westcott, proposed marriage to Wilson behind the TSN booth.

"I had no idea he was going to do that," says Wilson. "Everyone was so excited for us."

Life seemed grand. A reigning provincial champion playing on a team with nothing but upside -- and Wilson had a wedding to plan.

Everything seemed perfect.

-- -- --

Things began to unravel not long after Wilson returned home.

First, it was the stunning news that Thurston had fired lead Raunora Westcott from the team.

Westcott and Wilson had just finished curling their eighth consecutive season together and were known by everyone in Manitoba as an inseparable front-end partnership -- one that had just been made permanent off the ice when Wilson got engaged to Raunora's brother.

And so while Wilson says she was presented the option to keep curling with Thurston without Westcott, it really wasn't an option at all.

And so she left the team, too. At first, Wilson had reconciled herself to taking a year off from curling and focusing on her personal and professional life. But then Overton-Clapham found herself in need of a front end after she was also fired from a defending champion of her own.

It seemed a perfect match of cast-offs -- a front end of defending Manitoba champions, a skip that was a defending Canadian champion, all three of them with something to prove. A new curling partnership was forged and a schedule drawn up at a team meeting that summer.

And so after a bump in the road, everything appeared back on track for Wilson when she answered a ringing phone at her office at the Whiteshell Laboratories near Pinawa on Sept. 2.

-- -- --

"I got a call at work that something had happened to my brother and he was in hospital," Wilson recalled.

"I drove in. And he had passed away before I made it to the hospital."

Brent Wilson was 26. The Wilson family said his death was sudden and a terrible shock to everyone.

"He was my younger brother. It was just the two of us," says Wilson. "We were close, really close."

The death sent Wilson reeling. She retreated for a couple weeks, not doing much of anything. But a bonspiel loomed in Calgary, the first event for the new team she had formed with Overton-Clapham.

Raunora Westcott says no one was sure what to expect. "We weren't sure if she still wanted to curl," says Westcott, "or if she still could curl."

Wilson wondered the same thing, but in the end duty called. "I didn't want to let the team down," she said.

And there was the other promise she had made. Brent Wilson's obituary in the Free Press read: "His sister Leslie will live every day a little more for her brother Brent."

So she went to Calgary. Sitting in the hack the first time was a surreal experience, she recalls. "It seemed so strange all of a sudden. It was like, 'OK, wait a second, we're going to throw these eight rocks down the ice in one direction? And we're going to make a big deal about it? And then we're going to throw those eight rocks back down this way? Really? That's really important?' "

But that is just what she did. And slowly, Wilson says, she found some relief in the same mind-numbing ritual of her sport that she had suddenly found so strange.

Sweep, throw, yell. Repeat. The more she did it, she says, the more she regained a sense of normalcy.

Until finally, at the women's provincials in Altona last month, it seemed OK to care again about curling. "It just came again," said Wilson, "and I just went after it like I always had before. And I had a really strong semifinal and final.

"It was the first time that I really felt in the moment again."

-- -- --

That moment, like all moments, has given way to new moments. And the moments this week, as her team unravels in front of the country, are difficult ones.

But they are also ones that Wilson cherishes. Her parents, you see, have made the trip here to watch their daughter curl. In a year of the unimaginable loss of one of their children, Gerry and Mary-Lynn Wilson celebrate the triumph of the other. Not the wins and losses -- the triumph.

"I'm so glad," Leslie says, "that I could do that for them after what they've been through."

Consider it a promise kept: living a little extra, every day, for the one who was lost.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2011 C3

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