Road To The Olympic Games

Youth Olympics

Canada's comeback curling kids have fight and resilience in their DNA

Emily Deschenes and her curling teammates have brought a never-give-up mentality to Team Canada at the Youth Olympics. For Deschenes, it's an attitude she's needed since the day she was born.

Team third Emily Deschenes was born two months premature

Emily Deschenes, left, celebrates her rink's win over Korea on Tuesday with teammate Lauren Rajal at the Youth Olympics in Switzerland. (Thomas Skrlj for CBC/COC 2020)

CHAMPERY, Switzerland — Standing on the pebbled ice inside the Palladium Arena, Canadian curler Emily Deschenes can't stop smiling.

Draped in Canadian colours, holding her curler broom, with the Olympic rings surrounding her, Deschenes is living a dream she put into motion years before.

But getting to this point has been anything but easy.

Born two months premature, the Ottawa native was in and out of the hospital for much of her childhood battling stomach issues and a heart condition.

"It shaped who I am. Having to fight for everything. It's one thing that's helped me in my life," Deschenes said.

She's brought that never-give-up mentality to Team Canada at the Youth Olympics. Alongside lead Lauren Rajala, second Jaedon Neuert and skip Nathan Young, the team started the event by mounting two incredible comebacks to remain undefeated through five games in the round-robin.

As a seven-year-old watching the Vancouver Olympics, Deschenes decided she wanted to be a curler. (Thomas Skrlj for CBC/COC 2020)

Down 4-2 in the final end of the first game against the Russians, without hammer, Canada stole two points before stealing three more in the extra end to secure victory to begin the event.

In their next game, they stole two points in the final end against Poland to capture another comeback victory.

They've become the Canadian curling comeback kids, something Deschenes says they're embracing.

"We just want to fight to the very end. I want to give my all for Canada," the 17-year-old said.

WATCH | Day 5 highlights from the Youth Olympic Games:

2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games from Lausanne, Switzerland. 59:59

Canada will play Japan in the quarter-final Wednesday morning, with the gold-medal game scheduled for Thursday.

For Deschenes, this is an Olympic journey that started a decade ago when she saw curling for the first time.

"It's a funny thing because I fell in love with curling during the 2010 Olympics and 10 years later I'm playing at the Youth Olympics," Deschenes said. "And having my family here and looking up in the crowd and seeing them is an amazing feeling."

Watching their daughter from the stands are Joel and Cathy Deschenes. They were a hockey family, having never curled before the Vancouver Games. But when Emily saw curling being played at those Olympics, she looked at both of them and said that was the sport she wanted to play.

Deschenes father Joel, centre, and mother Cathy, right, cheer her on during competition Tuesday. (Thomas Skrlj for CBC/COC 2020)
"None of us curl," Joel said. "I've curled once in my whole life. She came up to us and told us she wanted to curl."

For Joel and Cathy, watching Emily curl at these Olympics has been one of the best experiences of their lives.

"To see her on the ice and in her jersey, we were pretty teared up," Cathy said. "It's pretty thrilling. It's really hard to explain."

There were long days and late nights in the days that followed Emily's birth — it was a scary time for Cathy.

"She's our miracle baby, born on Christmas Day. She struggled with some health issues," she said. "It was pretty stressful. They were long and unknown days. She had a lot of issues with her stomach and heart."

But Emily battled, her parents and the nurses in awe of her resilience during those early days.

Bursting with pride

"She's always fighting and when we think she's not doing well she turns the corner. This child is a fighter," Cathy said. "She always has a smile on her face. Even the nurses said when she was born, they'd always say this child is going to go far. And always remember that."

And now this, her father bursting with pride, but also on the edge of his seat.

"If I was able to get up and pace in the stands, I'd be pacing," Joel said. "This on another level. It's fun."

In a Curling Canada video made in 2015, Emily was featured prominently, sharing her story about overcoming adversity in life.

"One might say I was born to overcome challenges," Emily says to begin the video.

She was just 12 years old at the time but was already dreaming big.

"I have my sights set on the Olympics. I'll push hard to get there," she said.

Five years later, Emily has taken the first big step in her curling career to making it to the big Games. But first there's work to do and Emily will once again lean on that fighting spirit to help Canada in the playoffs. 

"Being a skip back home I can throw a shot under pressure. If I miss one, I never get down. We're never out of the game. You just fight until the end."

How Canada fared Tuesday:

In alpine skiing, Louis Latulippe of Quebec City was 10th in the men's slalom, while Mackenzie Wood did not finish. In the women's slalom, Sarah Brown of Mont-Tremblant, Que., did not finish and Alice Marchessault of Ste-Anne-des-Lacs, Que., was disqualified.

In biathlon, Jenna Sherrington of Calgary led Canada with a 14th-place finish in the women's 6 km sprint. Pascale Paradis of Calgary was 30th and Naomi Walch of Calgary was 52nd.

Ethan Algra of Abbotsford, B.C., was 40th in the men's 7.5 km sprint. Lucas Sadesky of Vernon, B.C., was 77th and Calgary's Finn Berg was 84th.

In mixed relay ski mountaineering, Calgary's Ema Chlepkova and Erye Findlay joined forces with Norway's Trym Dalset Loedoeen and Iran's Roksana Savehshemshaki to finish 10th.

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.

with files from Canadian Press