Saskatoon

96 and still throwing rocks: Sask. curler says 'it's good exercise'

Think you're getting too old for curling? Don't tell Helen Garinger that. She hits the ice twice a week and didn’t break stride as she celebrated her 96th birthday on Monday.

Helen Garinger started curling in 1950 and hasn't stopped since

Helen Garinger may not throw rocks the way she used to, but at 96 she's still an avid curler. (Bailey White/CBC)

Think you're getting too old for curling? Don't tell Helen Garinger that.

She hits the ice twice a week and didn't break stride as she celebrated her 96th birthday on Monday.

Just a few days earlier, she hit another benchmark at the local curling rink in White Fox, Sask., where she competed in its 50th annual bonspiel.

Garinger has been curling in White Fox since the rink's inception but started with the sport even earlier, in 1950 at her previous stomping grounds of Brooksby.

I just love it because you can meet so many nice people, and it's nice exercise.- Helen Garinger

"I just love it because you can meet so many nice people, and it's nice exercise," she told CBC's Blue Sky.

Outlasting her children

It's only the past three years that Garinger has started needing some assistance throwing the rock "because I have a sore knee." She uses a special handle on the end of her curling broom to send it past the hog line — the line a rock needs to pass to be considered in play.

"If there's a will, there's a way," said her daughter Mary Lou Almen, who also curls.

When they curl in bonspiels, Almen usually skips and Garinger plays lead.

"We don't like her to sweep very much on the ice because she really tries," said Almen, describing how much effort her mother exerts to influence the rock's path.

Garinger celebrated her 96th birthday on Monday, just a few days after White Fox's 50th anniversary bonspiel. (Submitted by Mary Lou Almen)

Garinger said she hopes she has another season in her.

"I probably will retire but I can't say that for sure because if the curling bug bites me next year, I might try to throw a rock," Garinger said.

If her children and in-laws have their say, this will be her last year.

"We said we would curl with mom as long as she can curl, but we're kind of hoping she quits pretty soon because some of us are ready to quit," Almen said, with a laugh.

A legacy of curling

The great-grandmother has already passed on quite a legacy of curling within her family, said her daughter.

"We were probably put on the ice just shortly after we were able to walk when we were kids. There was seven kids and our parents, so I think we had two teams in the Brooksby curling rink when we were young," Almen said.

Garinger is a matriarch for her family. She still lives alone, and her tally of crocheted afghans comes in at more than 200.

"She's one of the best cooks I know," Almen said.

She also has the biggest garden in White Fox, she said.

There are still a lot of games to be played this year, including a seniors bonspiel in March.

On this Good News Friday -- We salute the volunteers who make the small-town curling rinks vibrant community hubs. You heard about Helen Garinger, the 96-year-old who just curled in the White Fox Bonspiel. We heard about the Hoag family in Gravelbourg who have raised two curlers who are giving back to their town and making a splash on the national scene. We took you to Manitou Beach to find out how they were able to make a crokicurl rink on the cheap, using some pretty great innovation. You heard about volunteers in Makwa who breathed new life into the curling rink after it sat vacant for 10 years. We heard about Whitewood, the smallest town in Saskatchewan to put on the Tankard - provincial men's championship. And last but not least, we talked to a couple of unsung heroes in the curling world; the ice makers in Carnduff, who mix art and science to bring perfect conditions for curlers. 47:22

CBC Radio's Blue Sky is doing a monthly segment about good news happening in small communities around Saskatchewan. Have an idea for our next segment? Email us.

With files from CBC's Blue Sky and Ashleigh Mattern