Val Sweeting has compiled an impressive curling resume, yet the Canadian champion insists her feats pale in comparison to the accomplishments of her son.
And her thoughts turn to eight-year-old Jaxen a dozen times a day at the Scotties.
"I've learned a lot about resilience from him. If anything, he's taught me way more than I've taught him," says the 33-year-old mom, who plays third for Gimli's Kerri Einarson, the defending Scotties champion.
Jaxen was born with a rare genetic disorder, SATB2 syndrome, which significantly affects many areas of his development, including speech, cognitive function and motor skills.
Less than 500 people worldwide have been diagnosed with the syndrome.
"It would be so easy for him to get frustrated and just give up on things when he can't communicate the things he wants. But he was able to learn how to ride a bike last summer. He took a couple of spills early but he pushed me away, got back up and kept going," Sweeting said. "I was like, 'Wow, if he can do that with the challenges he has, then I can, too.'
"He's just so happy and brightens up people's day."
It took several years of doctor's appointments and therapy before a genetics test was finally administered and the diagnosis confirmed eight months ago.
Jaxen's at home and going to school in St. Paul, Alta., said Sweeting.
"He is with my boyfriend, Matt. It finally warmed up, so they've been enjoying some time outside. Jaxen loves hockey and he's really getting the hang of skating, so that's really exciting," she said.
The Albertan is the 'import' on the Einarson team, based out of Gimli. The squad is in the Calgary bubble, following strict protocols inside Markin MacPhail Centre and the host hotel in an effort to keep players, officials and broadcast crews safe during the COVID-19 health crisis.
Since the pandemic, Sweeting has been extremely vigilant about ensuring Jaxen is masked and social distancing, which hasn't been easy. He's a very friendly and outgoing child, and doesn't understand why he's being dissuaded from being his same, affectionate self, she said.
"There's not enough information on how the virus would affect him, but we're definitely being more careful. Part of his syndrome is he's wired to want to hug and kiss people. That's how he sometimes says hello because he can't always say, 'Hi.' He's an affectionate child and that's how he communicates," Sweeting said.
"In that aspect, we do have to be careful during social distancing times when he's just trying to express himself and he doesn't understand why he has to stay away from people."
She talks to Jaxen daily and fills him in on unique life in the bubble, on and off the ice. So far, it's been all good news for Team Canada, which upped its record in Pool A to 2-0 after a 6-4 victory over Beth Peterson (Wild Card 3) in an all-Manitoba battle Sunday morning.
Einarson, with Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard, lead Briane Meilleur, fifth Krysten Karwacki and coach Heather Nedohin, had an opportunity to bolster that record against Krysta Burns of Northern Ontario on the late draw.
Sweeting, originally from Maryfield, Sask., skipped Alberta teams that lost the Scotties finals in 2014 and 2015. She also guided Edmonton teams at the 2013 and 2017 Canadian Olympic Trials.
After nine years of calling the shots, she was ready to take on more of a support role — a move made in time for the 2018-19 season that has paid dividends.
The Einarson squad has been a force on the bonspiel circuit — ascending to the No. 2 spot on the World Curling Federation rankings behind only Sweden's Anna Hasselborg — and captured provincial and national titles in 2020.
"It's been a great ride so far with these girls," said Sweeting. "We came out of the gate hot together our first fall (2018) together, making a ton of finals and were really successful. We stumbled a bit in the provincial final (losing to Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul) and the ('19 Scotties) wild-card game (to Alberta's Casey Scheidegger), that was really tough. Those were wins we really wanted.
"But we learned a lot that year and that helped us be successful (in 2019-20), we had a good season on tour but we really implemented everything we had learned before. Winning provincials and our first Scotties title was definitely on our list of goals."
Einarson defeated Ontario’s Rachel Homan 8-7 in an extra end a year ago at the Scotties in Moose Jaw, Sask., nailing down a spot in the '21 Olympic Trials (late November in Saskatoon) in the process. Sweeting was named a first-team all-star.
"We were so fortunate to be able to have her join our team. She brings so much to the table," said Birchard. "She's super analytical and that's something she's instilled in us a bit. I think the three of us are a little bit more gut players, and so she brings in that clarity that we need at times in games when we need to be smart about certain things. That's a really big asset to have."
Einarson admitted she's in awe of her close friend and partner on the back end.
"Our relationship gets stronger and stronger every year. We do a lot of chatting on the phone and through texting about our lives and our children. She's a great person and a great teammate," said Einarson, a mom of twin girls.
"(Sweeting's) a great mother. She makes sure she's always taking care of (Jaxen) and it's really amazing how she handled everything, because it can't always be easy some days."
Assistant sports editor
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