People of varying ages and professions have all gathered in the Columbus Curling Club on a cold Monday night. They’re here to learn how to play a sport that re-enters the world’s spotlight every four years.
This time, though, the Winter Olympics have already come to a close and the U.S. men’s curling team came away with the gold.
Some participants in the “Learn to Curl Clinic” have no expectations. Others think curling is harder than it looks. Still others joke that it must be easy.
“It’s fun to watch them run down, sweep and yell ‘hard,’” Courtney Campbell laughs. “It’s like a sport you can do with a beer in your hand.”
Campbell signed up for an evening class and brought along her husband and two friends. She says it's been a dream of hers to learn how to curl.
“I’ve actually been trying to do this for like 12 years," Campbell says. "So I finally got it off my bucket list and signed up before the men’s team won gold."
It’s her favorite Olympic sport to watch. And increasingly, it's a favorite of others, too.
Every winter Olympic cycle, the Columbus Curling Club sees a spike of interest. But this year is different. After the recent Olympic games in PyeongChang, South Korea, full-fledged club membership grew by more than one-third compared to four years ago.
The Columbus Curling Club is completely volunteer-run. At their facility on Silver Drive, between Clintonville and North Linden, club organizers greet newcomers with a smile and hand them brooms before leading arm circle and lunge stretches.
It’s about 40 degrees on the rink, and people are dressed in sweatpants and hoodies. After a warmup, they divide up into four groups and learn how to lunge, slide and throw.
Curling is not for the faint of heart, as newcomer Michael McMahon quickly learns.
“I was bragging to my girlfriend here that I, too, could be an Olympian in this sport,” McMahon says. “Which I’ve quickly found out is probably not true.”
Most people in Monday night’s class had a similar reaction: Curling really is harder than it looks. Players slide large, flat, round stones across the textured ice towards a mark. Then, teammates use brooms to sweep the ice in the path of the stone to control its direction and speed.
“You need to be a lot more limber than I currently am,” McMahon says. “Olympic athletes make it look easier on television. ‘It’s just throwing a rock and a broom, I can do that!’ Which I can’t.”
McMahon is part of a wave of first-time curlers in Columbus. The club’s “Learn to Curl Clinics” have been completely booked. They even expanded to two clinics on weekdays and four on the weekends to accommodate the bump in interest.
More Curlers Than Ever
Club president Jack Gaynor says 2018 is their 10th season - and busiest so far.
“We’ll play you a short video talking about safety and the basics of the game, and then take you on the ice to show you a few things,” Gaynor tells the attendees. “Show you how to deliver a stone, the basics of sweeping, and then once everyone’s moderately comfortable with that, we’ll break up into teams and end with play of a real game.”
Gaynor says most newcomers hear about the club through friends of friends.
“In 2014, we saw a big spike," he says. "And instead of the gradual tapering off, it was more just stayed steady or grew a little bit. Then this year’s been huge. Of course, the men winning gold in the Olympics certainly helped out, I think."
Aside from the one-time curlers who participated in instructional clinics, the Columbus Curling Club had 151 members in the 2014-2015 season. The next year, 168 members. Last year, they had 180.
Now, the club boasts 208 members, and Gaynor isn’t sure how many more full-timers the club can take.
“We are approaching the upper limits of what we can handle in this space here,” Gaynor says. “We’re been adding leagues to try to accommodate the additional interest.”
With so much interest, the Columbus Curling Club is considering adding another "Learn to Curl Clinic" in late March or April - even as the ice outside melts and memories of the Winter Olympics fade.