Long before the bobsleighers puzzled and allured the winter sport world, Ian Robertson had planted a seed of Jamaica on ice.
“The joke was when I first started curling back 40-odd years ago, I used to kid with people because all my friends knew I had Jamaican heritage,” said the Curling Jamaica President.
“They’d say it’d be so awesome to have a Jamaican curling team.”
This tongue-in-cheek idea between Robertson and his peers goes back to the 1970s, before the Calgary 1988 Cool Runnings four-man bobsleigh team cemented the Caribbean nation’s unlikely relationship with the cold.
Fast forward 45 years and the country is set to compete internationally for the first time at the Pan Continental Curling Championships in Kelowna, Canada.
Jamaica women debut in B-Division
Cristiene Hall-Teravainen is by far the most experienced member of the women’s team, first getting into the sport in the 1980s through her husband.
Competing provincially in Ontario looked to be her career highlight until Curling Jamaica founder and former President Ben Kong sent her a message, which she initially ignored.
“I didn’t answer him for probably two years, and he reached out to me again, and it was then I thought, we should have a Jamaican curling team,” said Hall-Teravainen.
She moved from Jamaica to Toronto when she was six before moving across the province to Thunder Bay 40 years ago; now serving as vice-president of Curling Jamaica under Robertson, as well as leading development.
Kong, Hall and Secretary General, Andrew Walker, were all born on the island, but the team has become a reality thanks to those who qualify for citizenship through parents and grandparents.
Robertson’s father moved to Canada from there at the age of 12, while the rest of the team can also trace their family roots back.
Margot Shepherd-Spurgeon and her daughter Madeleine Spurgeon are joined in Toronto by Stephanie Chen, with all three regularly training together, while Hall-Teravainen curls 1300 kilometres west of the city.
The skip admits the gelling is most necessary between the less experienced players, calling their communication “imperative”, but stresses the need to train as a team, which is limited because they are “paying out of own pockets”.
“I think it’s important that you all get together at some point and it’s important to see how your teammates are releasing, things like that,” she said.
“They play together quite often, I don’t get the opportunity to play with them, due to travel.
“Last year we trained together [remotely] three times, this year’s Pan Continentals will be the first time we’re getting together, so we’re in a bit of an underdog situation.
“They will just have to relax one game at a time, play the way they’re used to at events like this, keeping their focus, and just enjoy the ride.”
It quickly becomes a running joke of the skip’s competitiveness from her days playing golf, right through to the present adding, “Nature says I want to finish at the top of that podium, but the top four would be great.”
If Hollywood were to remake Cool Runnings based on this team (working title, Curling Rocks?) it would probably miss out the administrative process of becoming a World Curling Federation member in September 2022 and the development of new athletes behind the scenes.
They are being patient with forming the men’s team due to the players being “fairly new” according to Robertson, as well as looking to harness ice technology to make the sport more accessible and continue finding players of Jamaican diaspora.
Growing the game
“Our goal right now is trying to grow it in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom because they have dedicated rinks,” adds Robertson.
“Our grassroots concept is to have curlers, athletes identified in Jamaica and nurture and train and grow them coming right out of Jamaica as a best-case scenario.”
Assisting with that is Hall-Teravainen, who hopes to earn funding to bring young talented Jamaicans to Canada to learn how to curl, while receiving an education.
She has already been successful in enfranchising young refugees in Thunder Bay through the sport, hoping to create a network of curlers.
“Up here, I have access to some of the best coaches in the game who are willing to help,” she said.
“I could have eight kids come, build it here, go to school and curl.
“I think if we had the funds, I’d go to Jamaica and bring street curling for them to try. Once this hits Jamaica, I think this is going to explode.”
No matter the end result, the President will see his country throw rocks at a major competition for the first time.
“It’s surreal to think about when we will see the Jamaican flag and they’re on the ice; it’s just a new chapter in sports for Jamaica,” added Robertson.
And an off-the-cuff joke made 45 years ago is soon to be realised.
Written by: Michael Houston, Feature Writer
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