Rookie Korean skip eyes Paralympic gold

  • Photo © WCF / Céline Stucki

Everybody knows that in any moment life can change. For better or for worse – we have little of control of what gets thrown our way. What we do have control over is how we react. This doesn’t have to be told twice to the athletes playing at the World Wheelchair Curling Championship 2017 in Gangneung, Republic of Korea.

In a field of ten teams, each with unique stories and reasons for dedicating themselves to sport, they all have one thing in common – perseverance. In the Gangneung Curling Centre, home of the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games, players don’t need to look very far for inspiration. Sometimes it’s playing on the sheet next to them.

For first-year skip Soon Seok-Seo of the host team, Korea, he admitted that one of his role models in the sport has been playing under the same roof as him all week – Canadian skip, Jim Armstrong.
“I respect Armstrong, from Canada, the skip,” he said.

Armstrong, a two-time Winter Paralympic champion in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, along with three World Wheelchair Curling Championship titles in 2009, 2011 and 2013 is seeking his fourth gold medal in his fifth World Wheelchair Curling Championship this week.

“He [Armstrong] is my target – to be like him in the future is the first step to get better,” Seok-Seo said.
After being involved in a car accident when he was 23 years old, the Korean skip admitted that life wasn’t so simple anymore.

“I was depressed because of many things, because I was disabled,” explained Seok-Seo.

It’s not unheard-of for persons with a recent disability to battle depression. After all, they have to find new ways to do the once-upon-a-time simple tasks. For Soon, he needed something to focus his time and energy on. Something to work towards.

Leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, his friends suggested that he try a new Paralympic sport. After throwing his first curling stone in 2009, and watching his current competitors play at the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, he decided to stick with his new-found passion.

“The depression is now gone and curling was the turning point for me. When I am winning the game, I am really happy.”

Fast-forward four years to the next Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia and Seok-Seo found his name on the back of a Korean curling jacket. Playing second on the Paralympic curling team, the Koreans finished ninth overall. With the Winter Paralympic Games being hosted in Gangneung, Republic of Korea, the team is staying focused on their overall goal of winning the gold medal in 2018 in their own country.

“Compared to other countries we are not a ‘team’ we are just selected from the other teams. So, we know how to work together and learn which player is better at each position. We are different than other teams because we are chosen, so we are working through the process step by step,” he said.

In session eight of round-robin play, that process proved to be working just fine. The Korean team added another win to level their three win and three loss record. Against who? The Canadian veteran who Soon Seok-Seo watched in the Vancouver Paralympics all those years go, Canada’s Jim Armstrong.

The PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games will be take place between 9-18 March 2018.

To follow the action from the WWhCC 2017 follow us on Twitter, Instagram (@worldcurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and use the hashtags: #WWhCC2017 #curling #Roadto2018

by Emily Dwyer, feature writer