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Cancer…curling…and cocktails

STUART SANKEY

February 2, 2021

The Winter of 2003 was one of my darkest life moments. I spent the last three years fighting Cancer. After multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, declining health, I was in a very bleak point of my life. February is my birthday month and I am always rewarded with the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the start of the Tim Hortons BrierBrier. My only experience with competitive curling was watching a young Kevin Martin play in the Halifax Tim Hortons Brier in the past – but I have never been to the weekly event.

My friend at the time decided that I needed a distraction and we booked into the final week/weekend package of the Scotties. Having limited funds due to not working full time during my ordeal, I asked my friends and family for the package as a birthday gift. We lined up a very cheap hotel on the outskirts, packed the car and we were off to Kitchener ,Ontario for the Scotties.

Not having knowledge on how the package works, we discovered that we shared the same seats with the same fans for the duration of the event. We sat beside a young couple and their young son who was just discovering curling. Their enthusiasm for curling was evident and after spending the whole day watching curling we got to know each other. We shared different beliefs on the outcome of the event and the competitive spirit was alive and well in the stands of the arena.

Curling is one of the most exciting games to watch live, however we all know the start of the game can be a little dry with setting up the guards. As I enjoyed a beer and popcorn my eyes would start to wonder. I noticed all the private corporate boxes surrounding the arena that were empty. Some big names were up there including Rogers – but no one was in the box??

During the Friday afternoon game, we decided to explore the arena. Through my stellar negotiating skills, we convinced security that we worked for Rogers and were there for the event. That afternoon we watched the game in comfort and were spoiled. We attempted the same scheme on Friday night for the start of playoffs but were quickly discovered. All the boxes were full with employees who had never heard of us to our dismay. The security squad would not be duped twice by these conniving curling fans……but the same with Cancer – you never give up.

At the time my sister was working for Rogers – so my calculating mind started to work. I got my sister to use Rogers letter head and fax a letter to the Kitchener arena putting our names on the guest list for the Sunday final.

I was routing for Colleen Jones all week and my dream came true – a final between Colleen and Cathy from Newfoundland. Although Suzanne Gaudet almost ruined it coming out of PEI gangbusters with a 10-1 run – Colleen prevailed for the final. It was my birthday and I made a sign saying “ Kiss Me Colleen it is my birthday!” I proudly brought my sign and officially signed up as a crazy curling fan. I sat next to my eagerly energetic young one and showed him my sign. I then mentioned that we would be watching the game in our private box and pointed above to his disbelief. After the first few ends and showing Colleen my sign, we moved up to the box.

Once in the box we discovered the luxury that a box offers. We enjoyed our comfy seats and panoramic view of the arena. To our surprise we got a knock on the door. It was the B.C. team looking for seats to watch the final. They had given all their tickets away for the final as they though they would be in it and needed a seat. We invited them into our box and they were our resident experts to watch the final game. Who could ask for anything more…..

Then to my dismay – my young curling fan took my sign and made some nasty edits. He changed my sign to “ Cathy beats Colleen”. I was horrified stuck up in my palatial private box which seemed miles away to the treachery that was happening at my seat. I could see him flashing my sign and watching my chance to meet Colleen dwindle as the team would think I switched over to the rock. I made it back to my seat for the final end and turned the sign around hoping that Colleen did not see the ill-informed edited version during the game.

The end of the game I waited eagerly with my sign by the players exit. I prayed that Colleen did not see the “ Sign Flip Gate” and would award me with a kiss on the cheek. OMG she is walking right towards me. Before I could say “ Hey Colleen” she shouted – “ You turned on me” with a sheepish grin. We laughed as I explained the sign flip and was awarded with my kiss and this picture. She even noted that I got the first kiss before she kissed her husband. The Scotties was the uplifting that I needed to keep on fighting.

Wow- where we are today? During the past 17 years I now sponsor 8 curling events with the Stu Sells Series. Colleen has played in a few of them. Over the years Colleen and I discovered that both of our mothers were born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, had the last name MacDonald, and both grew up on College Street??? We have not done the link yet but we feel that for sure we are cousins – so we call each other Coz! My summers are filled with excitement as I head to Nova Scotia for my annual summer dinner when I get the honour to cook for Colleen, Nancy, Kim and Marry-Anne. I am truly honoured to have these unbelievable people in my life and the sport of curling.