Canada's wheelchair curlers don't need a history lesson — they know what's at stake
Canadians have won all 3 Paralympic gold medals
It was talked about over and over leading into the Olympics — both of Canada's men's and women's teams being the favourites to compete for curling gold.
Never before had Canada not reached the podium at the Games. The Canadian men's teams were three-time defending champions
Then it happened. Both teams were left off the podium.
Keeping a close eye on everything that transpired at the Olympics were Canada's wheelchair curlers. Mark Ideson, Ina Forrest, Dennis Thiessen and Marie Wright know all about the great granite of expectations from this curling-crazed country.
"You can say all the right things but doing it on the ice is a completely different thing," Ideson said. "Canada of course has won gold the last three Paralympics so there's certainly a little bit of pressure there."
The Canadians have been perfect at every Games since wheelchair curling was introduced 12 years ago — gold in Italy in 2006, gold in Vancouver in 2010 and gold four years ago in Sochi. Now the pursuit for a fourth consecutive gold begins today against Switzerland. The top four teams out of 12 make it to the playoff round.
During the most recent Paralympics, Ideson was an alternate for the team, watching the games from the bench. This year he'll have the pressure squarely on his shoulders — he's the skip for Canada.
"It's the biggest tournament in the world for us," he said. "We don't get media coverage for four years. Once every four years we get in the limelight."
Ideson, from London, Ont., said he learned valuable lessons watching the event as an alternate at the past Games.
"Sochi was a really great preparation for these Games. I learned a pile watching from that perspective and hearing the coaches talk through different scenarios."
Staying in the green zone
Head coach Wayne Kiel has developed a system to keep the four curlers in a positive mental space throughout the Games. He calls them it the green zone, yellow zone and red zone. Red, obviously, is what the team wants to avoid.
He's talking about pressure situations where team members might lose their cool — and it doesn't only apply to moments during the game.
"We had some situations at the airport they handled extremely well. We had some situations with transportation they also handled extremely well," Kiel said.
It's just another tool to keep the team focused on what they're trying to accomplish at the Paralympics. Kiel stresses they aren't thinking about a gold medal, rather putting their attention on one shot and one game at a time.
"I know there's pressure out there because when it comes to curling the Canadians are eager and anxious," Kiel said. "We've been hearing it."
Kiel has also talked to the team about luck throughout the tournament. He's made it very clear there are going to be times when Canada is lucky and sometimes when it's not. It's how they respond in those moments Kiel is most concerned about.
"I told them the horseshoes have been distributed. Who's going to get them, when are they going to go against you and when is it going to be your turn?" Kiel said. "You better be ready and I don't want to see anyone hanging their shoulders when it goes against them."
Dream come true
While Ideson, Forrest and Thiessen are all returning to the Paralympics, Wright is making her first trip to the Games.
For the 57-year-old from Moose Jaw, Sask., this is something she could have never imagined.
"I feel like I'm living a dream," she said smiling. "I'm super excited. You can prepare at home all you want but you don't really get the hype until you get here."
For nearly two decades Wright worked at overcoming her injuries — in 1988 she was left a paraplegic after a vehicle accident. She was also raising four daughters as a single mom. In 2008 she decided to give wheelchair curling a try and hasn't looked back.
"The support that I've received has been incredible. I have so much support from the community, friends and family — from the entire province it seems," Wright said.
Two of Wright's daughters, her brother and his wife, as well as a friend from back home are all making the trip to Pyeongchang to cheer her on.
In a lot of ways, Wright still can't believe she's here — after everything she's been though.
"My family says that too. Never would we be thinking we'd be coming to the Paralympics to watch you mom."