Iconic curling fan's battle with cancer can't keep him from Olympic trials

Saskatchewan's colourful Hans Madsen is a fixture at curling events around the world, and he wasn't going to let his fight with melanoma keep him from this week's Roar of the Rings in Ottawa.

Hans Madsen is known for his painted and decorated beards

Curling fan Hans Madsen and his wife Judy catch the curling action in Ottawa this week. Known for his colourful beard, the 68-year-old has had to use a substitute after it was shaved off for cancer treatment. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

OTTAWA — It's hard to miss Hans Madsen at a curling bonspiel.

He's a 68-year-old construction worker turned curling fan from Yorkton, Sask. who travels from Scotties to Briers to world championships.

What he's most known for is his decorated lengthy white beard with all the paint and glitter imaginable.

He's in Ottawa this week soaking up more curling, but this time without with his bedazzled beard.

Madsen is battling stage 4 melanoma, a form of cancer. Less than a month ago he had his entire face and neck scoped. They cut all the cancer from his glands and lymph nodes, but they also had to shave off his iconic beard. 

None of it has stopped him from watching upwards of nine hours of Olympic trials curling every day this week. 

"I wasn't going to miss this for anything," Madsen said. "I was supposed to go to cancer clinic this week but I asked them to move it back a couple days if they could."

To cover up the scars from the surgery, but perhaps more importantly give Madsen that similar colourful bearded look, he got creative. It was actually his daughter and wife, Judy, who helped him out. 

"We came up with these beard socks," Madsen said. "My daughter helped me make these up and we sewed these."

All this week, Madsen has been sitting in the second row of the Canadian Tire Centre alongside Judy with a decorated beard sock around his neck. 

He decorates a different one every day. People have hardly known the difference this week. 

His outlook and attitude on it all is as optimistic as could be under the circumstances. 

"I'm better than new now," Madsen said. "I'm on this side of the grass and we can watch this stuff here. This is fantastic."

How it all began

Madsen is a die-hard Saskatchewan Roughriders fan. He's been going to games for more than 35 years. It's only in the past 10 years that he's ramped up his love for curling.

It started rather tamely. He would show up at curling events and sit quietly with the rest of the fans. It wasn't until he and Judy traveled to a women's world championship in Denmark years ago that he thought he'd try something new.

"We went over and I took some stuff to decorate with us," he said. "I painted up my beard over there and it was a success. If it would have failed over there it would have stayed over there."

It's been such a success over the years that Madsen is noticed everywhere he goes for curling events. The fans know him. The players certainly know him. Even the Olympic Channel did a video on his beard-painting antics. 

"It just kept growing and growing. Now I'm famous for it, or at least that's what they tell me," he said. "That makes us smile and hopefully we make the fans and curlers smile."

He hasn't yet gotten Judy to decorate herself up in Canada, but Madsen says that changes when they go overseas for events.

"She's a crazy curling fan. She won't decorate up on this side of the ocean, but I get a little makeup on her when we go to the women's worlds over there."

Winning the battle

Madsen said the doctors tell him they cut out all of the cancer. As soon as he leaves the Olympic trials he'll head back to Saskatoon's cancer clinic.

"You have to be positive. My mother has beaten it. My youngest daughter has too. They're all survivors," he said. "My mom is 90 years old and has had every operation under the sun and she says, 'Look what I can do. You can do this no problem at all."

Madsen learned about his diagnosis in late September. Things have happened "super, super" fast he said. He can't thank his doctors, nurses and the hospital staff enough for the care he has been given throughout his surgery and recovery.

He's not even really thinking about next steps in his treatment. Madsen would rather talk about the next curling event he'll be at. 

"We're already getting excited about the Scotties in Penticton in January. We booked those tickets about a year ago," Madsen said.

"And then we'll get to a few Brier games in Regina before getting to the women's worlds in North Bay."

As for what teams he'd love to see represent Canada at the Olympics, Madsen keeps his cards close.

"Whoever it is they're going to be Team Canada and they'll do a wonderful job." 

But when pressed a little more, he's happy to share his favourite.

"Rachel Homan and the team. If it's Rachel it'll be all the power to her."


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.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?