Curl It Up
Judy Wityszn Meets Champion Curler Brand Gushue
Photographs: Anil Mungal
Proud Newfoundlander, star athlete, successful entrepreneur, loving husband, father, Olympic-gold-medal winner Brad Gushue is a man of many talents. [EDIT]’s Judy Wityszyn spoke with him and discovered there’s a lot more behind the famous curler whom Canadians have continued to cheer on after their hearts were captured when Team Gushue earned gold at Turin’s 2006 Olympics.
Victory at the Brier; St. John’s, NL on March 12, 2017
[EDIT]: What has compelled you to stay in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador?
BRAD GUSHUE: I have always lived here and loved calling Newfoundland home. I’ve had many opportunities to move, have had the fortune to travel extensively through curling, but have never had an interest in leaving home. I love everything about it — except maybe the weather sometimes. My family and friends live here, and I never considered raising my family anywhere else. It’s a great province and city with great people. I enjoy being outside and it (Newfoundland) offers the best opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, along with lots of ponds for kayaking.
[EDIT]: This reminds me of watching your YouTube video about a camping trip. Is camping something you enjoy?
BRAD: Oh yes, that was an adventure. Camping in northern Alberta, close to the Territories, surrounded by the mountains. It was beautiful and a trip I won’t ever forget. We saw a part of the country I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. But generally no. I like being outdoors and enjoy most outdoor activities, but I equally enjoy my amenities. A bed to sleep in, hot water and a kitchen for preparing food are also pretty great.
[EDIT]: What do you love most about Newfoundland and Labrador? What would you encourage others to see or do?
BRAD: Well, in general Newfoundland is just very picturesque. Lots to see. Icebergs are unique for sure. I’m spoiled growing up getting to see them every spring into the early summer. But they are amazing. It’s kind of like going somewhere tropical, and they are used to it being sunny all the time. Reflecting on them reminds me how lucky I am — we are — to see them on a regular basis.
Then we see masses of visitors looking at them and we remember. In St. John’s I like the old-world feel. Smaller buildings that are two and three storeys high with lots of colours. They’re not something I’ve seen much on my travels.
I would also say that the people are unique. We’ve been fortunate to experience great hospitality in our travels, but there’s nowhere I’ve been that had the same friendliness. The people are so supportive, welcoming. And just so natural.
Grand Slam of Curling – Tour Challenge, Pictou, NS on November 5, 2019
[EDIT]: I read early on that a challenge of playing your sport nationally and internationally is that you almost always must travel. Tell us about some of your experiences.
BRAD: Yes, that is certainly a consideration when you sign up for this kind of commitment. But I have been lucky to travel the world. We have seen places we never thought we’d go, probably wouldn’t have planned to go necessarily. Places like Russia, where we had the opportunity to play twice, in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Curling in Red Square was certainly a highlight. We’ve played in China, South Korea, many parts of Europe and of course all over Canada. We were fortunate that our tournaments allowed us time to really be immersed in the cultures. Amazing experiences.
[EDIT]: Of all the places you’ve been, is there somewhere you would be most interested to revisit, to take some vacation and explore — and not necessarily be competing?
BRAD: I really liked Norway. And I’ve been to Switzerland with the team many times, but I’d be interested to go back without the game schedule. Go with my family when we could really see the sites, enjoy the restaurants, take in the beauty of the scenery.
[EDIT]: With your extensive travel, what makes you happiest to come home?
BRAD: Without a doubt, it’s my family. I have a wonderful wife, Krista, and two growing daughters. My wife takes it all on when I’m travelling and has for more than 12 years when our first daughter was born. Especially as the girls get older and the taxi rides more frequent as they go between dance, volleyball or cheerleading. Overall, I am grateful for all of my experiences, but there wasn’t anywhere that I found the people as friendly. You can’t beat coming home to Newfoundlanders.
[EDIT]: So, because you said that about the people, I have to ask for your thoughts on Come from Away. Have you seen it?
BRAD: (Chuckles) Yes, I saw it in New York. And I’ve watched the documentary. It’s an amazing story. It is very true to the people of Newfoundland. I wasn’t surprised by their hospitality, but it was a good reminder of what we get used to. It (the musical) represents Newfoundland well with a positive perspective. But it’s not out of the ordinary really. I know a couple of the people, and they were thrilled and proud when they went to see it for the first time. The music was great, and the story is a great depiction of what the people are really like. Newfoundlanders can be self-deprecating sometimes with our Newfie jokes, so it was nice that there was humour and the story was so accurate. I’m glad that overall it was a more positive representation. [EDIT]: Thank you for sharing your personal perspective. Why don’t we talk now about your curling? To start with, of all the sports available, what drew you to curling? BRAD: I found it on TV actually. I started watching the Brier and Scott tournaments. I’d stay up to watch every game. I was playing all different sports: soccer, golf, hockey and others. I was told curling was too expensive, but it was really, in part, because my parents thought I was too busy. I left it alone for a bit, but then there was an announcement at school to try curling for $20 so they couldn’t argue about me trying it. The day after was the last time I played hockey. I fell in love with the curling game. I started a few times a week, and after a couple of weeks I was there every opportunity I could. My sister watched as well and caught on fast. She was selected for the Canada Games — I didn’t make it. Physical challenges prevented her from continuing, but she supported me to keep going.
[EDIT]: Where did you go from there?
BRAD: Curling had become a priority for me. The local curling community has been around for a long time, but junior curling was at a low point. There were only 15 to 20 of us when I started, but within a couple of years it was picking up. I started to have some success with a win in the junior championships.
[EDIT]: In a small club, on an island, how did you continue to develop and move forward?
BRAD: There were a number of people who helped to encourage me and show me the ropes. I had many coaches in junior curling who were instrumental. Ron Buckley got me on a competitive team and Jeff Thomas, who is still involved, helped me to develop as a player. The club in general was very supportive by letting me play in the men’s and super leagues where I had access to more competition and overall knowledge from players with more experience.
Brad and Team Gushue with trophy at the Brier; Kingston, ON, March 8, 2020
[EDIT]: So fast-forward a bit… You’ve got many years of competing at the top level nationally and internationally under your belt. You’ve had more successes than I can count, a few injuries along the way… What motivates you to keep curling?
BRAD: My love of curling started with my enjoyment of playing chess. It’s chess on ice. The thought process, the cerebral aspect to outthink your opponent and stay a shot, or two or three, ahead. It’s exciting. The athleticism is equally a part of it, so the combination of all of it keeps me motivated and engaged. I also like the ability to help and support one another in a smaller team. Golf was an individual game, or there were bigger teams where certain positions were singled out like football with the quarterback or baseball with the pitcher. But I like the challenge with curling: it’s a team sport in that everyone shares the overall responsibility, but you play as an individual.
[EDIT]: Can you talk to me more about the role of the skip on and off the ice?
BRAD: Normally, the skip is someone who wants to take more of the lead in general. On the ice it’s reading the ice, calling the game and generally being the voice of the team to the public. This includes getting the sponsors, which allow all we do to be possible, and representing them well during the 40-plus hours of national television coverage. If there happen to be any readers interested, please reach out. The skip is usually the person who initiates putting a team together, finding a good match, working together to discuss and build out the skills needed as they (team members) look to identify possible other teammates. I’ve gone through a few iterations, finding the right balance of skills, work ethic, natural abilities that can be nurtured combined with maturity and experience and understanding of the expectations.
[EDIT]: So you are the skip, the leader, for your team. Tell me a bit about your current team.
BRAD: The current team is Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker. They are very dedicated, and I’m grateful that I’ve never had to push. We all share a strong work ethic and are very committed. They’re also a lot of fun off the ice, and we can have a good laugh, which is needed. Otherwise, we can get too serious and focused, which changes the dynamics on the ice as well.
[EDIT]: You have successfully led a team for many years. It sounds like at times it could be overwhelming. How do you manage?
BRAD: It can be overwhelming at times. The demands on time can be significant. Especially for an event like the Brier that lasts nine days. The team teases me, but I do tend to nap a lot. In and around the arenas I nap as much as I can. Shutting everything down so that I can rejuvenate and be focused for when I need to be ready and available.
[EDIT]: Working with a small team, I expect that could have some challenges.
BRAD: It really comes down to personalities. You have to work with what you have, and usually they’re pretty great. My best recommendation is to lean into them. Learn from each other, take time to understand what they’re feeling. Don’t shy away from the conflict but instead draw it out — 100 percent. I try to have us dig deeper for the root and then talk about how the fundamental issue can be addressed or improved on in the future. Be vulnerable. Take ownership. Move on.
[EDIT]: In 2019 you hosted the first curling camp available to individuals interested in learning more about the sport. How did it go?
BRAD: Yes, we were very proud to get the summer camp off the ground. We’d been talking about it for a number of years, wanting to have a local camp that would give curlers a chance to learn from top curlers from across the country. The administration work involved was overwhelming, but Leslie Anne Walsh wanted to take it on, and she got us off the ground. The first week went really well. We had great feedback that the kids had fun learning. It was very rewarding to see anxious kids, nervous kids at the beginning of the week, not want to leave when it was over. We hope that the camp will help grow the game at the competitive level. Some of the lessons these curlers got to experience were things that took me many trips abroad to learn. We had 90 curlers in total with about one half from Newfoundland and Labrador and the remainder from across the country from even as far as the Northwest Territories. The ice has to be put in before the regular season starts, so we’ve signed an agreement with the club for the next few years, and we’re hoping to extend to two weeks.
Grand Slam of Curling – Tour Challenge, Pictou, NS on November 5, 2019
[EDIT]: What would be your key message for potential curlers, who might even want to give your camp a try? And is there somewhere people can get more information?
BRAD: Curling is a great sport. Be open minded and give it a try. I think if more people tried it they’d love the game like I do, like so many do. You’ll like it even more than on TV. It’s not as popular as hockey, so it’s a little harder to go down to the rink, but give it a try. It’s a lifetime sport.
[EDIT]: Since you’ve been playing, is there something new or improved with the sport?
BRAD: The visibility of the sport has increased with time, which makes it more compelling for sponsors and as a result more viable for the teams. This will help the sport gain traction. The mixed doubles are also a great addition: another opportunity to grow the sport. It’s a faster game and appealing for people to watch compared to the typical three-hour game. It’s more offence-oriented — smaller teams but with similar goals.
[EDIT]: Thanks so much for your time and for sharing insights about your home and your sport. As we wrap up, can you share goals for this year?
BRAD: The 2018 season wasn’t the year we hoped so we scaled back intentionally with a lighter year in 2019. Our goal for 2020 was to get back to being a top team with a chance to win the grand slams.
[EDIT]: Congratulations on your magnificent Brier win in March this year. How did that moment feel?
BRAD: There was a great moment of excitement, pride and relief. You are always very excited to win a national championship or any major event. There is a great sense of pride knowing that you would normally get a chance to represent your country at the World Championships and there was a sense of relief because we had gone on the longest stretch as a team without a win. To break that streak at the Brier felt amazing.
Brad at the Brier, St. John’s, NL on March 12, 2017
[EDIT]: What was your COVID-19 lockdown experience like and how did you cope?
BRAD: The lockdown experience has had its positives and its negatives. From a positive perspective, I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my kids and wife. I travel quite a bit and haven’t had the opportunity to spend this much consecutive time with them. We have developed some great routines as far as fitness and playing games. That time together has been special for me. From a negative perspective, we never got the privilege of representing Canada at the World Championships.
[EDIT]: Thanks again Brad. I hope we’ll be able to connect on those successes, your camp and more.
Check out the Team Gushue curling camp at teamgushue.ca/curling-camp for registration details
This story originally appeared in [EDIT] magazine. To subscribe, please click here.