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It was another day and another heroes’ welcome for returning curling champions at Richardson International Airport Monday morning.
This time it was Gimli’s Kerri Einarson doing the honours, bringing home a Scotties Tournament of Hearts national women’s title less than 24 hours after Altona’s Mackenzie Zacharias and Winnipeg’s Jacques Gauthier were crowned world junior women’s and men’s champs, respectively.
"My team was absolutely amazing," said Einarson, who was joined in Moose Jaw, Sask., for the Canadian championship by lead Briane Meilleur, second Shannon Birchard, third Val Sweeting and fifth Jennifer Clark-Rouire. "They were shooting lights out all week and they made me look good."
The 32-year-old Einarson survived a steal of two in the 10th end by Rachel Homan in Sunday’s final to beat Ontario 8-7.
Einarson will join Jennifer Jones and Connie Laliberte in an exclusive club of Manitoba skips who have qualified for the women’s world championship when she travels to Prince George, B.C., March 14-22.
Einarson lost to Jones in the 2018 Scotties final before revamping her team prior to 2018-19 with the addition of Sweeting, Birchard and Meilleur, all former skips.
"It’s a great experience, especially being there (in 2018) and getting that feeling and knowing what it takes to win," said Einarson, who beat Jones’ Team Wild Card in the 1 vs. 2 Page playoff game Saturday. "And getting those nerves. Nerves are always good. If you don’t have nerves, you’re not ready."
Birchard, 25, took special pride in the team effort. After playing on Jones’ 2018 national champinship team as a temporary fill-in for third Kaitlyn Lawes, who was heading to the mixed doubles competition at the Winter Olympics, Birchard has found a home as the second on Team Einarson.
"The first time around I was so grateful for the opportunity to join up," said Birchard. "This is just that much more special because of all the hard work we’ve put in as a foursome and the ups and downs that we’ve gone through. All the changes we’ve had to make to adapt to our new positions. It’s just so special."
Birchard and Meilleur have transformed themselves physically to withstand the rigours of brushing to a world-class level during a week-long curling event.
"Their off-ice (training) is amazing," said Einarson. "Doing all those little things, working out, going to the gym and then eating healthy and staying in shape. And they’re tall, so they can get their weight on those brushes. I probably have the best sweepers in the world."
Meilleur and Birchard said personal trainer Adrian Honish has been a big part of their success. And they stuck to his blueprint.
"It’s always a grind, I’m sure it is for everyone," said Meilleur, 27. "It makes it easy when you see the results and you know you’re stronger and better for your team and you’re doing everything you can do to help your team win...
"To be able to last the whole 10 ends and not get exhausted is really great. We have our trainer to thank for that."
Added Birchard: "I went to the gym six days a week over the summer before our first season together and have continued to train with him over the last two years."
After a gruelling schedule that took them through the provincials and nationals, Team Einarson’s immediate priority is to take a break before the worlds.
"We need to make sure we get enough rest over the next couple of weeks," said Birchard. "Definitely take one week to kinda relax, hang out with our families, celebrate the win and then get back to training and a proper routine."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.