Craig Savill, decorated Ottawa curler, fighting cancer during hometown Brier

A decorated curler from Ottawa — who can't take part in the Brier because he's fighting cancer — says support from his fellow curlers has been overwhelming.

Team Ontario honours Savill at Thursday Brier game by letting him throw 2 rocks, and they were perfect

From right to left: Ontario skip Glenn Howard, third Wayne Middaugh, second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill hold the Brier Trophy following the gold medal draw against Alberta at the Brier in Saskatoon in 2013. (Derek Mortensen/Canadian Press)

Craig Savill watches from a few feet away as another rock is thrown at Ottawa's TD Place arena, and the realization hits him again that his dream of competing in a hometown Brier won't be realized — at least for now.

Savill, 37, is currently battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system.

The decorated curler from the south Ottawa suburb of Manotick found a lump in his armpit last August and received the diagnosis three months later.

"I knew my curling season was over and I had a new battle on my hands," Savill said Thursday, with a keen eye on friends and former teammates fighting for the national men's curling championship.

"Being a husband and a father to two kids, I immediately thought of my family and making sure that they're taken care of."

Craig Savill watched the morning draws on Thursday, but his former teammates with Team Ontario invited him to throw lead rocks in the eighth end during the evening draw. (CBC)
The 2016 Brier in Ottawa was supposed to be the chance of a lifetime. This was going to be a chance to play in front of family and friends in his hometown.

"It's tough. As a competitor I really want to be out there playing, especially here knowing it's just down the road from me," he said.

The Brier was also going to be his chance to play in front of his children, two-year-old Elsa and five-year-old Aiden, who followed his dad to the event on Thursday.

I really wanted to play in front of my son ... [so he could] have the same memories I did.- Craig Savill, curler

"I really wanted to play in front of my son ... [so he could] have the same memories that I did growing up watching curlers," Savill said.

"I was just in the change room with him and he was looking at some of the jerseys and the curling brooms, and he says to me, 'Dad, when I grow up I don't want to be a hockey player, I want to be a curler.'

"It just broke my heart to hear that."

Instead of spending his days on the ice throwing rocks and in the gym bulking up, he's in his bed recovering and reading about the fight on his hands.

Support from curlers overwhelming

Savill admitted to having no prior knowledge of Hodgkin's lymphoma when doctors shared the diagnosis, so his mind went to a dark place.

"Everybody thinks once you have cancer it's a fatal disease, and it's what I thought, too," he said.

Those thoughts didn't last long, though. The support from friends, family and the international curling community has been overwhelming, he said.

"It was quite shocking. I remember once it started coming through, I actually didn't reply to anybody for a few days [after the diagnosis] just because there was so much I didn't know where to start," Savill said.

Curlers, organizers and broadcasters are wearing purple ribbons at curling events, including the Brier, in support of Craig Savill's fight against Hodgkin's Lymphoma. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)
"Every time I turn on the TV to watch another curling event, they keep talking about me and it's lifted my spirits completely."

The support includes a purple ribbon, which curlers wear at each event in support of Savill, and several posts on social media from as far as Australia, Switzerland, Scotland and Norway — a post that really touched Savill.

"I'm actually choking up just thinking about it because, really great guys, and for them to send that out to think of me is nice."

Savill realizes dream for an end

And at the Brier on Thursday night, Savill had a chance to realize his dream for one end.

His former teammates with Team Howard of Ontario brought him out to throw the first two rocks in the eighth end.

Savill received a standing ovation from the crowd at TD Place, and both of his rocks were perfect.

Savill is halfway through chemotherapy treatments, which take place every two weeks — six down, six to go.

Widely known for his charisma and energy, Savill admits that energy is extremely difficult to come by due to chemotherapy. He says being around the rink has given him a little boost this week.

Ottawa curler Craig Savill can't compete in the Brier because he's battling cancer, but he took his son to the games on Thursday. 0:38

With files from Hallie Cotnam


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