Throwing curling into the limelight in Laurel

Special to the Laurel Leader

Eli Clawson was sitting around his home in Clarksville watching the 2006 Winter Olympics with his two older brothers, Caleb and Hunter, when the television showed curling from Italy.

“We saw it and it looked like a lot of fun,” recalls Clawson, now a junior at River Hill High School.The three brothers asked their mother if they could try the sport, which they knew very little about.

“We did a quick Google search,” Clawson says, and were surprised to learn that the closest curling facility was about 15 miles away at The Gardens Ice House in Laurel, which has been home to the Potomac Curling Club for nearly 16 years.

The three brothers have been regulars at the club for the past 10 years. While no members of the local club are members of the U.S. Olympic teamin South Korea, that may not be the case in coming years as Caleb and Hunter competed in a top-flight competition in Switzerland last year.

It is not just national-level competitors who hone their craft at the Potomac Curling Club.

The club offers Learn to Curl programs and a Saturday morning “Breakfast Extravaganza” that has less structure and is geared for drop-in players.

On a recent cold Friday night, a multi-generational group occupied the cozy space at the club in west Laurel. A pair of teenagers sprawled on a couch while watching televised curling from Canada. With four teams on the ice competing in a game, FL Ettlin, a former Laurel resident who lives in Bowie, and Jeremy Singer, a Silver Spring resident, sat at a table to provide information as the co-coordinators of the TGIF league.The club attracts teachers, engineers, architects and librarians, according to Ettlin, a registered nurse at Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham.

“If you are coming from a sport where you are (moving) fast you really don’t” in curling, said Singer, who played soccer in high school and in college. “I don’t want to say it is a sedentary sport because it is not; it is not fast. You are not racing to get to places. There is no real hurry to do things.”

Curling, according to the club brochure, is “seemingly simple. A granite rock, a sheet of ice, a target 42 yards away. Finish with your rocks closer to the center of the target than your opponents’ and your team of four wins the game. The rocks curl down the sheet, traveling over an ice surface rife with nuances thanks to specially applied pebbles of frozen water that lets the 42-pound rocks move with surprisingly little effort. Finesse and control of how hard the rocks are thrown become the important factors, not strength.”

Ettlin discovered curling about 16 years ago while on vacation in Quebec, where she saw the sport on television. A popular sport in Canada, a curling club was formed in Montreal in 1807.

“I have never been a team-sport person,” said Ettlin, who did fencing and equestrian when she was younger. “People who have seen curling on TV think it is very easy, but it is not. But that is okay.”

Curling, for instance, attracts Ultimate Frisbee players.

“I am not sure why. (Curling) is not really fast. It is a measure fast,” Singer said. “We do lose a lot of curlers after a year. It takes a little work to get better.”

The Potomac club will face a challenge after this month’s Olympics to keep newcomers interested in the sport of curling. Every four years the club sees an increase in attendance and membership as a result of the Olympics. For $25 a person can take part in a single session, while rates rise depending on level of participation.

“The challenge is we are in Laurel, Maryland,” said Miriam Terninko, who lives in Northern Virginia. “Traffic in the D.C. area is terrible. People in this area tend to have very full lives. Carving out time for something (new) is very tough. There is also a sizeable fee for ice. It does cost money.”

Singer teaches at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C. and has explained the sport to his students.

“I really enjoy the fact that it is still, but I am still physically doing something,” Singer said. “I am not the most active person. I enjoy the strategy aspect of it. But I (also) enjoy sweeping the heck out of the stone. I also like prepping the ice. There is something very soothing about it. I find it kind of relaxing.”

A math teacher, Terninko, 49, makes the drive to Laurel twice a week to take part in curling. She grew up in New Hampshire and competed in crew, lacrosse, soccer, skiing and ice skating before she started curling.

“One of my co-workers had been curling for a couple of years,” said Terninko, who has been curling in Laurel for about five years. “My husband and I came the first year and said ‘This is really fun.’ I play in a women’s league on Tuesdays and then Fridays and he plays in a men’s league.”

“I like it for the exercise,” she added. “The sport is fun and the people who come here make it better. You can tell we are a social group. The game is called chess on ice. There is a lot of strategy to it. You need very good balance. The other thing I like about it is, there is no age limit.”

The next “Learn to Curl” event at the Potomac Curling Club is Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. Go to curldc.org

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