The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the curling world hard. The cancellation of the World Championships in 2020 impacted organisations across the globe, venues were shut down to enforce restrictions and activity across the world came to a standstill.
That pales into insignificance when compared to what Netherland’s men’s national team coach Shari Leibbrandt-Demmon has had to go through – the loss of her husband Christian last April.
Christian was known to all in the world curling community, a talented photographer, a thoroughly valued official, chief timer at the World Junior Curling Championships in 2020 and an overall kind-hearted, well-loved human.
“He was fit, healthy and had no underlying medical conditions – he was not at risk,” said Shari of her late husband. “He had been working at home and had been careful. I was with the team in Scotland preparing for the World Championships.
“When it was cancelled and we were coming home, he made a trip to the grocery store to stock up – that shopping visit was his last.”
Shari suspects Christian contracted virus then and she added: “When I got home, he had no symptoms. On Thursday that week he started getting a temperature but was otherwise okay.
“Friday a higher temperature and a bit of runny nose, light cough and Saturday he was in the hospital. Sunday put into a coma on a ventilator.”
Shari, a talented athlete across many sports in Canada in her youth, had the first phase of her own curling career cruelly curtailed after a car accident in the Rocky Mountains.
“I started curling when I was 12, and like most sports, it quickly became a passion.
“I competed in juniors and schools in British Columbia and when I moved to study in Calgary, I continued curling and became even more motivated and inspired by great curlers, coaches and teammates.
“Reaching an Alberta final and winning an Autumn Gold are a couple fond memories. My first curling career ended after a car accident and my hopes to compete for Canada were shattered.
“This period inspired me to explore more coaching opportunities to keep active in the sport.”
When Shari made the decision to move from Canada to the Netherlands with her husband, Christian had no idea what curling was.
“Little did he know how much his life would change and a new world open and passion be inspired,” explained Shari, who once again got involved with the sport she loved in her new home country.
Shari represented Team Netherlands for seven years, and competed at the 2006 World Championships as Skip, but soon her focus switched to helping the country develop its stars on tomorrow.
“Even with all the great experiences I had as a player, coaching was without a doubt my true passion – investing and learning from the sport, the athletes and other coaches.”
And with her on that journey was Christian.
“Christian didn’t have much choice,” Shari joked. “He joined me with the juniors at events and when something was needed, he stepped in wherever he could to support and help without question or hesitation.
“His commitment to not only support my passion but to find his own place in the sport and curling family is simply heart-warming.
“Christian not only financially supported my curling project, he adopted it.
Involved in every aspect
“He became a role model, a fan, a photographer, a study tutor, a chauffeur, a bookkeeper, a curler, live stream expert, a timing specialist and so much more. I think most importantly he became a ‘friend and true supporter’ to the team, World Curling Federation and curling.
“The love he invested making pictures at junior camps, managing the ticking seconds on the clock at championships and taking the time to share his skills and motivation with his volunteer teammates was remarkable – a passion and a gift to our sport and the world curling family.”
Many would be forgiven, in a similar situation, for taking some time for themselves to recover from the loss of a loved one. But Shari insists that having the opportunity to keep working – with the goal of helping the Netherlands achieve a top six finish in the men’s World Championship – in the sport she loves is a blessing.
“The team also lost Christian; he was one of us. His contribution and influence are with us every day.
“So, we all work together to keep it real, keep the focus on the goals and share the moments we need to overcome, knowing he would want us to do our best, never give up and achieve everything we dream.
“He believed in the team and the goal. The team has worked exceptionally hard this season in challenging conditions. The commitment, drive and passion of my athletes inspire me every day – and we know Christian will always be there with us – our rock of support.”
World Curling Family
Shari said the “outpouring of support from our great curling family was really incredible,” when she shared the news that her husband had contracted COVID-19 and been hospitalised and later was unable to recover.
She said: “I was alone, but not alone in isolation. I had a full world curling community of support in addition to the team, my family, Christian’s colleagues, neighbours and friends.
“Three long weeks of hope and loss. A loss we still feel and share today, a loss we can only comfort with words – no hugs or visits.”
Shari added: “I think the message I like to share for anyone feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19, whether it is the loss of someone you love, a friend, colleague, neighbour or all the loss and isolation overall in your community – you are not alone.
“Reach out, share your story so people learn it is real, it is painful and people following the guidelines working together can make a difference.
“The team and I have been able to continue to train and develop our sport because we take extra care and precautions, we are responsible to each other and cherish our families and network of support.
“Please wash your hands, wear a mask and distance – together we can keep hope for achieving goals and dreams – but we must work together.
“I know the impact of COVID on people has not only been from experience of loss of a loved one, but it is also jobs, community, sports, clubs and so much more – it all hurts but please keep hope, stay safe and save someone’s life by choosing to be responsible.
“Christian is a lesson, that is what he would want to share – please learn from him.”