Keep on curling

About a year ago, Cam Long decided he’d have to quit curling. The retired stationary engineer loved the camaraderie at his local curling club in Huntsville, Ontario. He found the exercise exhilarating. But each time he bent down to throw a rock, he suffered excruciating pain in his hip.Then he started using a simple device, similar to a shuffleboard stick. It allowed him to stand up and deliver the rock. He started winning games. Last winter he made it to the playoffs in a local curling bonspiel. “It felt awful good,” he says. “I’m happy to have the stick.”

With 1.4 million curlers, over 1,000 clubs and more curling events than any other country, Canada is the undisputed leader in the world of curling. But each year hundreds of curlers walk away from the sport because of a disability.

“You have to have a range of mobility in the knees, hip, and lower back to curl,” says Gerry Peckham, director of high performance for the Canadian Curling Association (CCA).  “Individuals with a passion for this sport found themselves sidelined. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.”

The Extender
Cam Long’s stick is made another Huntsville resident, T.W. ‘Rusty’ Drew. His wife, Roberta, was also ready to give up curling because her knees hurt every time she crouched down in the hack. Then she saw someone using a delivery stick and she borrowed it to show her husband.

Rusty Drew, a former sheriff-turned-businessman and inventor, thought he could improve on the design. He created a lightweight curling aid called The Extender that allows curlers to put the same kind of curl on the rock as they would if they delivered it by hand.

His stick has a long wooden handle with a plastic clip on the end that fits over the handle of the rock. He sells the plastic end for $35 and the handle (with your name on it) for another $15. Some people buy the plastic end and make their own handles.

The 72-year-old now runs a thriving cottage industry from the basement of his home. In a three-month period last winter, he sold 400 Extenders in Canada, mainly through articles in newspapers and through his website.

He’s had inquiries from as far away as Australia, Japan and Korea. Recently, he’s struck a deal with a club in Scotland – a real coup considering the Scots invented the game.

“It’s a bit like selling refrigerators to Inuit,” he says.

The name Extender was a suggestion from his wife. “It not only extends a player’s curling years,” Drew says, “it extends the revenue to the clubs because people are continuing to curl.”

Great exercise
CCA’s Jerry Peckham agrees that seniors are keeping a lot of curling clubs flourishing because of their financial contribution in non-prime-time hours. “It’s probably the cheapest form of recreation. The curling rinks provide all equipment except footwear and most have discounts for seniors.”

It’s also a great form of exercise. Curlers walk about two miles in the course of a two-hour game and sweeping gives curlers a great cardiovascular workout.

Drew estimates there are up to 22,000 curlers in Canada who can’t curl because of problems with knees and other injuries. But although he foresaw a large market for his product, the question remained: were the sticks legal? The answer is yes.

Although some of the first paintings of the sport in 1565 show people using sticks to deliver the rocks, curling sticks, per se, have never been addressed in the official rule book.

Sticks are legal
In response to inquiries like Drew’s, the Canadian Curling Association has included a rule about curling sticks in its latest edition of the rule book, published a year ago. Rule 19 (3) (a) states: 

  • “The use of a curling aid, commonly referred to as a ‘delivery stick,’ which enables the player to deliver a curling stone without placing a hand on the handle is considered acceptable.”

The player must release the rock before the hog line. Bill Haysom, manager of the Medicine Hat Curling Club in Alberta, has seen a range of inventions, from a simple device that attaches to your curling broom to a high-tech model with a pistol grip that attaches to the player’s forearm. The prices range from $20 to $300.

“There’s a small wave of entrepreneurs doing this across the country,” Haysom says.

Other delivery sticks
In Brooks, Alta, 30 per cent of the senior curlers are now using a stick invented by an 87-year-old farmer who claims if he had a piece of wire “he could make it run.” His invention, called Walk-A-Rock, is a five-foot-long pipe with a slight bend at the end.

Attached to the end is a short piece of pipe that slips over the handle. He sells his stick for $40. “Some people using the stick had to quit curling 10 years ago,” Harstead says. “Now they are curling twice a week and enjoying it as much as before.”

Jerry Pelchat, a confirmed supporter of curling sticks, says he’s curling better now than he was two years ago, thanks to Harstead’s invention. “It works like a dream,” he says. “I’m not exaggerating. I’m more accurate with the stick.”

Good for beginners
The Canadian Curling Association sees great potential for the delivery sticks, not only for disabled curlers, but for beginners as well. “I can get you playing in five minutes if I don’t have to teach you the subtleties of delivery. You can enjoy immediate success with a delivery stick, ” Jerry Peckham says.

“My greatest pleasure is seeing a lot of people getting back into curling,” Drew says. “I started out to solve a problem my wife had. I found out a lot of other people had the same problem.”
    * * *
There are many curling aids on the market — ask your local curling club or sports store for further details.

  • For information about The Extender, call T.W. “Rusty” Drew at (705) 789-7286 or email [email protected].
  • For information about Walk-A-Rock call Bob Harstead at (403) 362-2191.

Susan Pryke is a contributing editor for FiftyPlus CARPNews.