Saskatchewan rink shooting for record-setting win at Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships

Saskatchewan’s Marie Wright and British Columbia’s Ina Forrest have a lot in common. They’re both national team-level curlers, they’re longtime friends and they’re both competing at this week’s Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships in Moose Jaw.

For this week, they’re also roommates.

It’s a common para-sport story — top rivals hanging out together off the ice. Both are longtime top-level competitors, with at least one of Wright’s teammates calling her the face of Saskatchewan wheelchair curling. She relishes the moniker.

“I’ve actually been called that a few times this year. And it just makes me feel proud to be representing Saskatchewan, our province, and our city, Moose Jaw. To be that well known is amazing.”

For Forrest, the choice to share a home with Wright was a no-brainer.

“Last year, nationals were here as well and I stayed with Marie. And so I thought, ‘Hey, that just worked out so good.’ And it’s such a wonderful opportunity to spend more time together,” Forrest said.

WATCH | Saskatchewan defends title at national wheelchair curling championship in Moose Jaw:

Saskatchewan defends title at national wheelchair curling championship in Moose Jaw

Two teams are representing Saskatchewan at the Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championship in Moose Jaw. The skip of Saskatchewan 1, Gil Dash, is going for a record-breaking fifth win. The skip of Saskatchewan 2, Rod Pederson, is leading a rookie team.

Wright has a 2018 Paralympic medal to her name and has won four national championships, but her career can be traced back to Forrest, a four-time Paralympian who has been with the national team in some capacity since 2007. Wright said that she was a reluctant curler when she first started, having been recruited to fill out the first Saskatchewan rink to go to nationals in 2009, but that changed once she started competing with, and watching, Forrest.

“I had grown up a hockey player. So hockey and curling doesn’t really mix.… But they twisted my arm and they got me to go give it a try,” Wright said. 

“From the very first time that I got on the ice, I just fell in love with the sport, and just wanted to aspire to be better and better. Every year, I watched my friend Ina Forest from B.C. [compete] with Team Canada. And my goal, my inspiration, was to make it there with her.”

Now, 15 years later, Wright and her rink are going for a record-breaking fifth national championship.

Four people in green uniforms sit in wheelchairs on a curling sheet.
From left, skip Gil Dash, vice-skip Marie Wright, second Moose Gibson and lead Sheryl Pederson make up the Saskatchewan 1 rink in this week’s Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships in Moose Jaw. (Mike Stobbs/Curling Canada)

Stick around any para-sport long enough and the topic will eventually turn toward recruitment. Wheelchair curling is no different. That’s why, in recent years, Curling Canada has increased its focus on its Next Gen program. Kyle Paquette, Curling Canada’s paralympic program director, believes this will pay dividends.

“To endure some of the retirements that are bound to happen after this quadrennial, we knew that we needed to really make an effort at finding new talents and new athletes.”

One of Canada’s next-gen athletes, Jill Hopkins, who curls out of the Toronto Cricket Club, has been recruited to compete for Manitoba this week. Her start in curling came after some friends pointed out there were people at their club curling from a wheelchair and asked if she was interested in trying it.

“I said, no, but I hate winter. And so if there’s anything that can help me hate winter a little bit less, this could be it,” Hopkins said.

This is Hopkins’s second year in the sport and second year at the national championship. When asked what she’ll focus on this week, she spoke about putting process over product.

“Be thoughtful in my lineup, and mindful of what the objective is of that particular shot, and just really make something happen with each of my shots to make that contribution,” she said. 

“That’s my hope for my particular performance and, certainly, I hope the rest of my team plays the way that they want and plays well, and that we have some good competition out there.”

A group of people sit in viewers' seats watching teams do wheelchair curling.
The view from the gallery at this week’s Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships in Moose Jaw. (Mike Stobbs/Curling Canada)

There are 11 teams at this week’s championships, including representatives from BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The tournament starts with 10-game round-robin, with playoffs to come on Saturday. There is no shortage of competition on the ice, with Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and B.C. among the teams jostling at the top of the field. 

Gilbert Dash, who is skipping Saskatchewan alongside Wright and has been a longtime member of the national team pipeline, said the goal of breaking the record with a fifth championship hadn’t really entered his mind until media members started asking him about it.

“Yeah, OK, It’s a record, it’s something you want to get. Who doesn’t want to get records? But for my thought process, to get a record you have to not really think about it when you’re on the ice,” Dash said.

“When you’re going through this tournament, you have to win game by game. And how are you going to win game by game? To me, it’s shot by shot.”

LISTEN | Gil Dash spoke with host Peter Mills on The Afternoon Edition:

7:15Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championship kicks off Sunday

The Brier just finished. Now, another top Canadian curling event comes to Saskatchewan as Moose Jaw hosts the Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championship starting Sunday. Saskatchewan’s skip Gil Dash joins host Theresa Kliem to talk about the event and what’s at stake.

Dash is no stranger to hitting shots, having recently won a silver medal with Canada at the 2024 World Wheelchair Curling Championships in South Korea. 

He said the volunteers and officials who make tournaments possible deserve credit alongside the athletes.

“I think this tournament is being run very well. And we really had a lot of support from Curl Sask,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of officials here, we couldn’t do it without them and [it’s] much appreciated. And the volunteers at Moose Jaw are outstanding.”

Five people in green uniforms, four in wheelchairs, move across a curling sheet.
Team Saskatchewan 1 makes its way across the ice during the opening ceremony for the Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships in Moose Jaw this week. (Mike Stobbs/Curling Canada)

As with any national event, the tournament is an opportunity to market the sport and welcome new people. Wright said that those watching often comment on the sheer amount of skill it takes to be a wheelchair curler.

“They seem to enjoy the wheelchair curling without the sweeping and really remark about the talent that you need to not have sweepers to carry that rock,” Wright said.

The Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships continue in Moose Jaw until March 30.

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