by Stephanie LeDrew
Did all that really happen, or did I just dream it?
It's hard to believe that in the last two weeks I've flown over 14,000 kilometers, slept in six different beds (including multiple airplane seats and one airport bench) in three different countries, laughed and cried in all three nations, and made it all the way back home – with a world bronze medal to show for it.
Going into these events, you never consider what your “next best thing” will be. You focus only on your goal, and no one's goal is to win a bronze medal. So what do you do when you're so unprepared for that feeling, and it happens?
It's strange to feel as though you've come up short of your goal and yet finished the week off on a high note, mustering up as much pride as you can for your achievement. Suffering the greatest loss of your athletic career is an indescribably awful feeling. You've prepared your whole life for this. You've trained and sacrificed endless hours in anticipation of this very moment. You left everything you had on the ice, and it wasn't enough – but you'd better get over it quickly, because you've got a bronze medal game to play in less than 12 hours.
This will now be your chance at redemption. Your last hurrah, your final hope of mustering something to be proud of and ending the week on a high note.
You cannot imagine the mental toughness it takes to pull yourself together in this situation – but pull together we did.
We walked into the arena that bronze morning with pure determination, in spite of our own feelings of loss and shortcoming. There was absolutely no way we were going home without a medal. I almost felt sorry for Team USA; they had no idea about the ANGRY FREIGHT TRAIN they were about to face.
We gave up an early deuce in the second end, but that's where the mercy ended. We took a three-ender right back and set the cruise control until the finish, with our fearless skipper Rachel Homan shooting a ridiculous 94 per cent game.
That's how you bounce back.
Later that day, when the roller coaster of emotions was slowing down, we stepped onto the podium and received our medals and bouquets. And something magical happened, again, to cap off a magical week.
Having nowhere to store the flowers, and knowing we'd be flying home in a few hours, coach Elaine Dagg-Jackson decided to pass her bouquet on to a young Latvian curler who had been faithfully cheering all week long – for every single team, and every good shot. She was a 13-year-old event volunteer, and a member of the Latvia's junior women's team (there are only two junior women's teams in the entire country). Earlier that week, she had quietly asked for our team's autographs, which we gladly provided on our way into the locker rooms before a game. Another volunteer witnessed this and later informed us that this young curler was shaking and almost in tears afterwards; she was so grateful that we'd stopped to give her some signatures.
There's your context. After the medal ceremony, when Elaine gave her our bouquets, she cried and gave thanks as though the flowers were worth a million lats (the local currency). It's so easy to forget this stuff, especially when you're trying to focus on a world championship... but THIS is really what it's all about! That young curler will remember those moments for the rest of her life. She's been inspired by athletes at the top of their game, not just by talent and dedication – but by kindness, too.
It is so easy to lose perspective in the heat of competition. It's hard to remember that it's a just a game, because it's not just a game. There is a difference between game and sport – in sport, we live as much for the agony of defeat as we do for the thrill of victory and yet, as amateur athletes, it always ends the same for curlers: back to regular lives, regular jobs, regular responsibilities. It is but one element of a full, rich, beautifully normal life.
I wear the number 34 on my curling jacket; it represents the month and day of my father's passing, to remind me to keep perspective when facing difficult times on the ice. When you feel the pain of such a great loss, you have to look at all the good you've done, and all the things you have to cherish and be proud of. Sometimes all it takes is seeing the pure pride and excitement in the eyes of a little girl holding a “Congratulations Steph” sign at the airport, or the sound of your grandfather's voice as he chokes back tears on the telephone, telling you how proud you've made him.
These are the things that help you pick yourself back up and get back in the game – because, despite victory or defeat, there is so much more in this life to go home to.
[Canada podium photo by Alina Pavliuchik/World Curling Federation– click on images to increase viewing size]
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