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Members of Team Gushue playing with heavy hearts after family deaths just days before worlds

You'd barely know it by the way they're carrying themselves on the ice this week in Las Vegas, but Mark Nichols and Brett Gallant are playing this world curling championship with heavy hearts.

Mark Nichols lost his mother, Brett Gallant his grandfather

Team Gushue's Brett Gallant, centre, and Mark Nichols, right, each lost a close family member in the week prior to the world curling championship in Las Vegas. (Steve Seixeiro, World Curling Federation/Canadian Press)

LAS VEGAS — You'd barely know it by the way they're carrying themselves on the ice this week in Las Vegas, but Mark Nichols and Brett Gallant are playing these world curling championship with heavy hearts.

Just a little over a week ago on Saturday, March 24, Nichols's mother, Helen, died at the age of 63. 

Three days after that, Gallant's grandfather, Lorne Burke, died. He was 86. 

The team and their families have rallied around the two as they compete in this bonspiel. 

"It's one of the better places I could be because it's what I love to do," Nichols said. "My mom loved watching me curl and she wouldn't want me to be doing anything different."

Mother was a curler

Helen was also a curler. She played on a team with Sue Ann Bartlett at the 1992 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Helen coached Mark in the early days and was a part of getting him involved in the game. 

For as much as he's trying to stay focused on the task at hand, Nichols admitted there have been some difficult moments over the last week. 

"I'm doing OK. I'm as good as I can be given the situation," he said. "Being here does take my mind off things. It's been a little over a week now and it's definitely challenging at times, but I'm doing as good as could be expected."

It was nearly a year ago that Nichols was on the other end of extremely intense emotions. He had just won the world championship in Edmonton with the team before flying back to St. John's to be with his wife, Colette, for the birth of their second son, Emmett.

"It's crazy. You're going from one extreme emotion, the joy of bringing your second child into the world, to losing the person who brought me into the world. It's both ends of the spectrum for sure," he said.

Mark Nichols says being at the curling rink is therapy after the loss of his mother, who was a curler in her own right. (Richard Gray, World Curling Federation/Canadian Press)

Gallant said it was his grandfather who gave him his start in curling. The two used to spend countless hours at the rink together and his grandfather coached him in those early days. 

"He's the big reason I love curling so much," Gallant said. "He was my coach the first eight years I curled. I have a lot of good memories with him." 

Much like Nichols, Gallant said being at a curling rink this week is "the easiest place to be" after losing his grandfather. 

"He'd be really proud," Gallant said. "I know he'd be really proud. My mom is here. We're happy to be here together."

Lorne Burke was also a competitive curler. He competed for P.E.I. at the 1970 McDonald Brier in Winnipeg. Gallant said Burke had a competitive spirit, but also found a way to make the game fun. 

"I loved going to the rink because of him," Gallant said. "It wasn't just even on the curling rink. It was on the golf course. Fishing. Tinkering around."

Canada easily defeated Japan 9-2 at the World Curling Championships. 1:02

But what Gallant said his grandfather would be most proud of is the way Team Gushue carries themselves on the ice. 

"I think the way we go about the game he'd be really happy with," he said. "Not only the play but the way we approach it. Enjoying every moment out there. He'd be the first to pick up on that."

The family is holding off on the funeral for Burke until the end of the world championship so that Gallant can attend back in P.E.I. 

Skip Brad Gushue couldn't be more proud of the way his third and second have carried themselves so far at the world championships. 

"I think they've done an incredible job of not letting it affect them as much as it could," Gushue said. "I think they haven't let [lead] Geoff [Walker] or I know what they're dealing with. It's a challenge."

Quiet guys

He said he's told both Nichols and Gallant that if they need anything both he and Walker are there for them — but said they're both pretty quiet guys. 

"The timing was tough for them and all of us. Life happens. I have to give them a lot of respect and credit for how they've handled it," he said.

Gallant and Nichols couldn't be more grateful for all of the support they're getting both from the team and their families. 

"I keep everything close to the chest," Nichols said. "If I needed to talk I know the guys are there to support me. Colette is there and my dad is, too."

About the Author

Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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