Vision impaired nationals in Ottawa
By Joe Pavia
Photo by Neil Valois, Curling Canada
It’s a vision that’s lasted ten years.
The AMI Canadian Vision Impaired Curling Championship is in town this week at the Ottawa club where six provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Saskatchewan) and Team Canada are fighting for national glory.
Louise Gillis is not only the National President of the Canadian Council of the Blind, the organization that organizes the tournament, but is the long-time skip for Team Nova Scotia.
With no vision in her left eye and only 2300 in part of her right eye her sight is very limited. “I can only see the close hogline. I can’t even call line really. It’s already too late by the time it gets to that point. I have to do my best with what I can see.” This means that her strategy involves plenty of plan B shots.
The competition rules are the same as any other curling event. Curling Canada’s rules are in force with a few exceptions. The athletes are divided into B1, B2 or B2 players; B1 players are completely sightless and tend to play lead. An on ice guide sets up their shots. B2 and B3 people have tunnel vision, peripheral vision only, sight in only one eye etc. There is also a designated sweeper per team.
How do they do? With each game timed (they have thirty-six minutes to play an eight end game) volunteer timers watch everything. Ottawa curler, Mario Larouche, times many games and thinks the curling is pretty good. “The big difference is not everyone has the same vision. So the lead is completely blind like 100 per cent blind. It’s really different from our perspective we are seeing. They have no idea where the broom is. So it’s hard for them to actually make the shot but as much as weight wise they are pretty good.” He continued. “They can do pretty much what we can do at a curling club level.”
Gillis didn’t curl before nor did any of her teammates. “It took a lot of convincing to get some team members together. Everyone was afraid. What me go out on ice. Yes you go out on ice but its different ice.” Ten years ago these rookie curlers took to the ice for the first time that October or November. “So with only five or six practices under our belt our goal was to win one end in the whole competition but we won fifteen ends and it gave us the drive to keep on going.”
Her squad plays out of the Sydney Curling Club where they play in two leagues and practice once a week. At first club members didn’t know how to take them. “First off they started taking pity and we told them we don’t want pity that we are here to play like any other player. So now they don’t take pity on us and they get kind of upset when the blind curlers beat them.”
This national continues until the 1 p.m. final Friday. Draws are at 9 and 1 daily.
WINNERS’ CIRCLE: In the weekend’s Crystal Heart tournament the winners were: Open division – Debby Ship from Montreal, second event – Dawn Rodney, third event – Kathryn Jessup and fourth event – Kim Wilson. In the Senior section the first event winner was Kingston’s Joanne Miller while the second event victor was Nicki Quintero. The event raised $62,000 for Heart and Stroke while the Sandra Chisholm rink raised the most money at $8,000. In the OVCA Mixed bonspiel a week ago the A event winner was the team skipped by Yvan Dubeau along with Gisele Dubeau, Luc Desjardins and Jocelyne Desjardins.
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