All work and no play makes the Brier and curling unique

There are professional curlers who commit to the sport full-time, while others need to use vacation time from work just to compete.

Brier athletes tackle the stresses of work, life, curling balance

Saskatchewan second Kirk Muyres, left, and lead Dallan Muyres sweep a rock as they play Manitoba at the Tim Hortons Brier curling championship at the Brandt Centre in Regina on Sunday, March 4, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

For most professional athletes, playing their sport pays the bills. In the case of the NFL or NHL, it could pay several families' bills. 

But that's not the case for most professional curlers. 

The Brier brings together some of the best curlers in the world for an intense week-long competition. There are curlers who commit to the sport full-time, while others need to use vacation time just to show up.

Team Saskatchewan second Kirk Muyres, a mortgage broker in Saskatoon, knows the struggle. 
 
"You work on the road, you work when you can, you work at nights," Muyres said after a mid-week game at the Brier. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to go back to the change room here and look at my emails and have to deal with some emails." 

When asked if anyone tells him to log off of work and focus on curling, Muyres said the most pressure comes from his clients.

I love this game so much. I'd do anything for it.- Matt Dunstone , Team Saskatchewan

"I've heard it a couple of times this week: 'Forget about us and go win a curling game,'" Muyres said, laughing. "But there's a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff that has to be done, but it's pretty manageable."

Even though Muyres feels the need to do some work between games at a national championship tournament, he's grateful for his situation.

"We have the freedom to go and live life too and enjoy this. You're not going to be able to do this forever so even if you gotta balance a little work-life and curling in there it's a privilege that not many get."

Sacrifices to be the best

Brad Gushue's Team Canada improved to 3-0 with an 8-4 win over Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories in Monday's early draw at the Brier in Regina. (Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press)

Team Canada skip Brad Gushue is one of the best curlers in the world, he's going for his second-straight Brier championship tonight, and he's also a business owner.

"It's a struggle and it's getting more of a struggle as my kids get older and they're more active," Gushue said. "The businesses become busier and there's more requirements now to stay at the top of the curling game."

Gushue has been vocal about the need for changes to the grueling schedule Canadian curlers currently have to endure to remain competitive.

"It's not like it was 15 years ago. You gotta be in incredible shape. You gotta work at it just to keep up ... the Olympics has really caused that to happen and it is becoming a real struggle." 

Even though he's playing some of the best curling of his life, Gushue said in the not-so-distant future he might be forced to "make some changes to be able to do it because it does become a bit of a burden."

Living the dream

Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs clinched a playoff berth with a win over Mike McEwen's wild-card rink on Thursday at the Brier. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Another curling heavyweight, Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs, already made changes this year in order to stay on the top of his game for the Olympic Trials and Brier. 

Jacobs, who manages a curling club in Sault Ste. Marie, took a leave from work this past year to focus on curling full-time.

"It's almost getting to a point where it's very difficult to hold a full-time job and curl full-time as well," Jacobs said. "It's a lot. It can be very draining."

Like Gushue, Jacobs believes the increased demands will change the lives of curlers in the future.

"I didn't want to do that to myself," he said. "You see a lot of curlers out there who are self-employed and I think it's kind of going more in that direction for the flexibility side of things."

At 22 years old, Team Saskatchewan third Matt Dunstone is one of the youngest athletes at the Brier this year. Dunstone was an apprentice iron worker in Winnipeg, but as Jacobs predicted, Dunstone stepped away from a job he "loved" because it was too hard to find time for curling.

"It was a fantastic, fantastic job. Definitely the best one I've ever had and I was learning a ton and getting things moving forward with them," Dunstone said.

"It was tough, but it wasn't really fair to them, it wasn't fair to my team, it wasn't fair to me with all the travel that goes on to be in Saskatoon for weeks at a time then go back to work. Especially with an Olympic year, I just wanted to give this a full go. These guys worked their butt off to get that Trials spot and I owed it to them and I owed it to myself to put me in the best position to be good for them."

Dunstone expects to go back to work eventually, but even if it's later than sooner, he said it's worth it to commit to curling.

"I love this game so much. I'd do anything for it," he said. "I'm a young kid, you can worry about financials later. I kind of see it as you're young, you may as well go. If I was to go to school now, who knows what that might do to my curling ability in a few years. So I'll go now and might start my retirement a little bit later but, hey, that's OK with me. I'm living the dream."

About the Author

Peter Mills

Peter Mills is an Associate Producer with the Morning Edition on CBC Radio One in Saskatchewan. Follow him on Twitter @TweeterMillsCBC. Do you have a story idea? Email peter.mills@cbc.ca.