Anton Hood was not born when the world celebrated the Millennium in 2000, yet he finds himself already in a retirement home at the age of 23.
Among the 175 permanent tenants at Chartwell Colonel Belcher Retirement Residence in Calgary, Canada, there are four curlers from New Zealand roaming the halls too.
Ambition led to this unlikely partnership, moving the quartet from Naseby, home to just over 100 people, to one of the biggest cities in Canada.
The Kiwi flag had not been flown at the world men’s curling championship since 2012, until Hood skipped his rink at the 2023 competition in Ottawa, flanked by Ben Smith, Brett Sargon and Hunter Walker.
“It was huge for us to qualify,” said Hood.
“We went into the worlds with the mindset that everything after that was a massive bonus.
“Getting to play in the TD Place Arena was incredible and the biggest crowd there in one draw was around 7,000 people.”
A fifth-place finish at the inaugural Pan Continental Curling Championships secured their world championship spot, but New Zealand could only muster a single victory in Ottawa.
“You have the top six or seven [teams] who are the best in the world and the bottom half of the field is a scrap of who can beat who and we’re definitely at the bottom of that scrap,” added Hood.
“We were slightly disappointed we didn’t pick up another couple of wins, but the goal for this season is to qualify again for the worlds and work our way up that table and improve on our place in Ottawa.
“Realistically we knew if we wanted to be any good internationally, we would need to be competing with these guys all the time.”
Sights set on Canada
Along with their coach Peter de Boer, the squad decided a move to Canada would benefit their development, with better ice to play on and a greater depth of elite-level opposition to compete against.
When the foursome committed to the move, astronomical rent prices in Calgary dealt a blow to their plans, relying on World Curling Federation Board member and former Australian Curling Federation President, Kim Forge, for assistance.
A Facebook post from Forge attracted 150 responses in just 12 hours, linking the team to Cassandra Murray, a retirement living consultant for Chartwell Colonel Belcher Retirement Residence. Murray offered two rooms at the facility, close to the Calgary Curling Club, which she is also a member of.
In return for four months of accommodation, the team integrate with the residents; similar to an intergenerational scheme ran in the Dutch city of Deventer, remarking that these projects are “always a positive” for the elderly.
“It’s a great location and then the residents are just getting some young vibrant people around and just something to talk about,” said Murray.
Some had reservations of sharing a space with the younger men, worrying about constant partying, but these concerns were quelled when Sargon shared a photo of his former teammates in Manitoba, who were between the ages of 67 and 96.
With Sargon the first to land in Calgary, he was immediately encouraged to join the local residents for a beer at Happy Hour.
He admitted the New Zealand accent perplexed some, but spoke of the kindness of the people.
“They live up to the Canadian stereotype of being incredibly friendly and welcoming,” said Sargon.
“They didn’t judge a book by its cover and wanted to know our story.”
While at the residence – which Hood describes “like a hotel” – they will fund their season through jobs found in the city. The skip will be working as an ice technician at the local curling club, Smith as a plumber and Sargon online as a business developer. Despite the major change to their lives, they agree it is definitely a positive one.
For the coming season, the quartet will be focused on qualification for the LGT World Men’s Curling Championship 2024 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and aim for the top 20 in the world rankings.
“We’ve all left friends and families and jobs to come here, but it only becomes a big sacrifice if you feel like you’re missing out on something – I don’t think any of us feel like we are,” said Hood.
Support will be coming directly from the residents too, who are set to travel 30 miles south to Okotoks to watch them compete in late September, consolidating the relationship between the curlers and their housemates.
“What we want to get out of this too, is retirement homes aren’t just for seniors to age and to be lonely,” added Murray.
“There’s opportunity for some really cool things to happen.”
If they make it to the world championship they will have over 100 senior citizens in their corner, “except if we play Brad Gushue,” adds Sargon.
Written by: World Curling Feature Writer, Michael Houston.
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