To Helen Radford, the message she and her team wanted to send was simple.
“This is about people, and we care about our young curlers,” Curling Canada‘s Youth and Nextgen Manager said.
She realized that the hardest-hit curlers during the pandemic were the youth, especially those who lost out on their last year of junior eligibility.
“It’s a very important cohort of athletes,” she said. “We wanted to provide opportunities where they could continue to curl together.”
With that in mind, Curling Canada announced a trio of new events for young curlers, including the U-15 Rockfest, U-23, and U-25 Invitational.
“It’s pretty exciting for us,” said four-time provincial junior men’s champion Rylan Kleiter. “Especially with having to make a jump into the men’s game, this will give us a few more opportunities to prepare for the next step.”
“The programs that we now have are built through a system,” Radford explained. “We can track our athletes from the playground to the podium.”
Even though Kleiter’s rink out of the Sutherland Curling Club in Saskatoon has fared well at men’s events throughout the province, he’s excited at the prospect of competing nationally against his peers.
“(Any opportunity) to play against the best teams in the rest of Canada that are around our age is going to be extremely beneficial for us,” he said.
Radford and her team also viewed the addition of the U-25 tournament as a way to help young curlers balance sport, work, and school.
“We know it’s a difficult stage when they’re in university or starting a career, early on,” Radford said. “So, we’re happy to be able to provide something for them.”
One curler who could take advantage of that is 2020 Saskatchewan Junior Women’s Champion Ashley Thevenot.
Even before pandemic restrictions and cancellations came into effect, Thevenot had decided not to compete this year, in order to give herself more time to focus on finishing her post-secondary education.
“It’s a great opportunity for lots of curlers who are my age,” Thevenot said. “I thought my junior career was over and now there’s this U-25. It’s definitely something that I would look into.”
Even removed from competition, her love of the sport has kept her training, whether it’s for U-25, mixed doubles, or women’s.
“I don’t think I could, like, have a point in my life where I cut off curling completely,” she chuckled.
No surprise to Radford, citing support from Saskatchewan since the events were announced.
“I’ve heard from more people in Saskatchewan that in any other province or territory,” she said.