Sticks and stones

About a year ago, Cam Long decided he’d have to quit curling. The retired stationery engineer loved the camaraderie at his local curling club. 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, that 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,” Peckham says. “As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

The Extender
Cam Long’s stick was made by Htsville, Ont., resident T.W. “Rusty” Drew, whose 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 of it 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.

The 72-year-old now runs a thriving cottage industry from the basement of his home selling Extenders 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.

But are the sticks legal? Yes, according to the Canadian Curling Association which has included a rule about curling sticks in its last 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.

In Brooks, Alberta, 30 per cent of the senior curlers are now using a stick invented by Bob Harstead, an 87-year-old farmer. 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.”

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.”