Tempe club get a taste of Olympic qualifiers


TEMPE – Curling in Arizona looks like an oxymoron.

It takes place on a patch of ice, with competitors pushing brooms, and is historically considered a sport most often played in Canada, not in the desert. The valley, with its triple-digit temperatures, hardly seems to match perfectly.

But Michael Siggins, Erik Kowal and Bob Leclair of the Coyotes Curling Club in Tempe, who make up the Siggins team, are not disturbed. They worked quietly towards an Olympic dream.

The three have become friends through the Coyotes Curling Club over the past decade. Siggins and Kowal became teammates, and Leclaire their coach, after watching the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. They all come from different backgrounds, states and even countries, but they are linked by their passion for sport.

Leclair grew up in Canada and moved across the country for most of his adult life. He recently retired from Kellogg’s and decided to move to Arizona to practice his two favorite activities: curling and golf.

“The first people I’ll call each place if I go back to visit,” Leclaire said. “Whether it’s Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, I’ll call the curlers I’ve played with.

Michael Siggins and his teammates trained hard to qualify for the preliminary Olympic competition. (Photo by James Franks / Cronkite News)

The same goes for Siggins, the team captain, who owns Pasta Brioni in Old Town Scottsdale. After going through what he calls a “chaotic” year and a half due to the pandemic, the only constant has become his curling community.

“In fact, one employee died from COVID,” Siggins said. “I went from 80 hours a week at my two restaurants paying my staff not to work, closing one, removing my daughter from daycare and spending every day with her.”

Kowal, who works in an aerospace engineering manufacturing company, knows the sacrifices of Olympic-level training, while still having a full-time job.

Mix in with the pandemic, and it’s a miracle that some athletes even bother to compete. For Team Siggins, the foul in the sports world meant a chance to qualify for the United States Olympic Trials in 2022.

When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, Coyotes Curling, like everywhere else in the world, shut down. The same goes for the world curling rankings. When the standings thawed in 2021, Team Siggins received the call that they had qualified for a pre-tournament at the Olympic Trials.

“We are the first to win a national championship (in Arizona),” Kowal said, referring to the team that won the 2019 national club championships. “We are the first (to participate) in a series of Olympic trials, so hopefully down the road, as the sport continues to grow here in Arizona, we can… continue our success. ”

In early September, the Siggins team competed in the qualifying heats for the Olympic Trials in Seattle. They didn’t advance any further in the series, but still celebrated “the spirit of curling” the only way they knew how: Team Dunnam took Team Siggins for dinner and drinks. Curling athletes do this frequently and discuss the game, their teammates and life outside of sport.

Training for the Olympic Trials is a feat few will experience. But finding the time and money to train when all team members are working full time and have little or no sponsorship is difficult. When Team Siggins learned they had qualified, Leclaire had to remind athletes that sometimes blessings come from the strangest places.

Eric Kowal of Team Siggins works full time outside of his curling responsibilities. Part of his training includes stone throwing in practice. (Photo by James Franks / Cronkite News)

“I convinced the other guys to go there because the experience is something you want to get once every four years,” Leclaire said. “Who knows how long you’re going to have this opportunity.”

Just a week after the preseason competition, the Coyotes Curling Club was filled with people ready to train, including Siggins, Leclaire and Kowal. It’s full of fathers who are late to pick up their daughters from dance class because the training took a long time. It’s full of people making jokes about how to describe curling to others.

“It’s a combination of shuffleboard and ice chess,” Kowal said. “The Shuffleboard is the most relevant game. You slide a puck across a shuffleboard table, much like you slide a curling stone across a slab of ice.

It’s filled with 40-pound “rocks” that bump into each other and brooms lined up on supports, like hockey sticks. It’s filled with people like Kowal, Siggins and Leclaire who feel right at home on the ice, especially in Arizona.

“I’m going to curl until they pull me out of the ice,” said Leclaire.

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