She was a shy little girl, was Jennifer Jones. Painfully shy. Hard to imagine now, seeing her in Sochi, leading her curling crew on an unprecedented 11-win-zero-loss march to Canada’s first curling gold medal since 1998. In-control, in-command, relentless, are more accurate descriptors today. Painfully relentless, her opponents might say.
“I think it’s the best Canadian team that could have been here,” said Swedish skip Margaretha Sigfridsson after her team’s 6-3 loss in the final game.
Jennifer was the little girl who watched her parents, Carol and Larry, play at their Winnipeg curling club, absorbing the experience, learning the nuances long before she got on the ice. Something magical happened when she began to play.
Her father taught her to curl. She was 11. Now she is 39 and sometimes Larry still holds the broom when she practices. “I was so shy I just participated in sports as a way to get over that, I guess, or to feel included,” she says. “Back then I just loved playing. I loved the smell of the ice, I loved competing, it was the place in the world I felt the safest. That happened when I was 11 years old, and that continues to this day.”
And along the way she became, now beyond doubt, one of the best women curlers Canada has ever produced. And a corporate lawyer. And, in November 2012, a first-time mother to 14-month old Isabella.
The women play for team and country, of course, but they play for special people in the stands, too.
After the win, after they congratulating the Swedes, after they hugged and jumped up and down like school kids and shed some tears, that is where their eyes and their thoughts turned.
Carol and Larry were in the seats to witness their daughter and team win their gold medal, as was her boyfriend Brent Laing, the father of their child. He’s a competitive curler, playing second to Glenn Howard’s powerhouse team. Jones credits him for making her a better curler after he helped guide her training after knee surgery in 2012 and the birth of their daughter late that year.
And Laing gets no small credit for little Isabella, who was too young to travel to Russia. “She would see me on TV and she starts dancing and clapping and runs to the TV to give me a kiss,” said Jones who teared up a bit at the thought. “She made me want to go after everything and show her that dreams can come true, you’ve just got to be really determined,” Jones said. “And regardless of the outcome [to] just enjoy the moment. I want her to enjoy every second of her life.”
That’s a big wish because not every second will be as happy as this: five friends in the Winnipeg crew together on the podium—Jones, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen, Kaitlyn Lawes and alternate Kirsten Wall—the joy of the win coming off them in waves.
They all have families in the stands, which made the moment all the sweeter. And a few who were missing.
Officer, who has played almost 20 years with Jones, left behind her two-year-old daughter, Camryn. They talked every day via the computer. “She says, “Mom, you’re at the Olym-piax,” she said. “I knew leaving her behind would be hard but I kept thinking about her all the time, and thinking about how proud she would be 10 years from now.” By the she may understand what it means to be an Olympic champion.
There was also an empty spot in the stands, one Kaitlyn Lawes so ardently wishes her father could have filled, there beside her mother, Cheryl. Keith Lawes was a stay-at-home dad, and he loved the game of curling so much he introduced it to his daughter at two. “He was my inspiration,” she said.
She would follow him around, and, like Jones, she would watch her parents play the game; the curling club becoming something of a second home. Keith watched her progress as a young player, but he was robbed of her greatest sporting achievements. He died in 2007 when she was 18. His little girl would win the Canadian junior title just four months after his death.
“I know he would be so proud of me,” Lawes said after Thursday night’s gold medal win. “I thought about him a lot during the game, just looking up at my mom. She was just so proud. I can’t wait to see her. I just wish I could share the experience with him.”
It would be wonderful every second of a child’s life was something to savour. Life doesn’t work that way. But some day little Isabella, and Camryn, and Wall’s daughters, Dayna and Sarah, age seven and five, may appreciate how beautiful this moment was, and how hard their mothers worked for this.
Perhaps they will be inspired to do something equally wonderful. Perhaps they will learn what can be achieved when you make every second count.