Wednesday, February 20

"How Is She Doing This?"

Heart on her sleeve

Rob Vanstone | Regina Leader-Post
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The people rose to their feet to salute a remarkable feat.

Michelle Englot and her Saskatchewan team had just lost 8-4 to Mary-Anne Arsenault's Nova Scotia quartet during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts' Tuesday afternoon draw, but the result was irrelevant.

At 4:24 p.m., after the teams shook hands, Englot was hugged by teammate Cindy Simmons. The Saskatchewan skip proceeded to the other end of the ice to collect her curling paraphernalia.

People applauded. Englot waved. The ovation intensified. She waved again.

As Englot made the return trip down Sheet A, a handful of spectators in the northeast corner of the Brandt Centre stood up and applauded. Within seconds, many of the 3,819 spectators had followed suit.

The Regina curler was in tears by the time she reached the end of the ice, to be embraced once again.

Shortly thereafter, Englot left the ice, walked briskly to the dressing room, got changed and embarked for Montmartre -- where a funeral was held for her father, Joe, on Tuesday evening.

Neither Englot nor her teammates spoke to reporters following Tuesday afternoon's draw. The media respected their request that no interviews be conducted at that time.

I could only sit back and wonder: How is she doing this?

Ordinarily, the grieving process is very private. Not this time. In front of thousands of onlookers, Englot is mourning her father, who died of a heart attack Friday at age 74. She faces questions about a sad circumstance after virtually every draw.

I can relate to Englot's situation, but only to an extent. I lost my father to a heart attack on June 1, 1982. Alan Vanstone was 61 years old. I was 18.

For days afterward, I sat on the recliner with the dog. I did not have to face anybody. I watched whatever was on television. And it was hell.

"I may have been on the recliner if I didn't have this," Englot said with a chuckle the other day.

In that respect, the curling has been therapeutic. For three hours at a time, Englot can concentrate on something other than a sad situation.

Initially, it was impossible for the six-time provincial women's champion to separate curling and personal tragedy. The team lost its first two games at the Scotties.

"We were still very emotional the first couple of games and I think it showed," said Englot, who rebounded with four consecutive victories before facing Nova Scotia on Tuesday afternoon.

With a 4-3 record, Englot is very much in the mix, which again raises the question: How is she doing this?

In 22 years of scribbling for a meagre living, I have never dealt with a storyline quite like this one.

Until Friday, I had never interviewed someone at a competition on the day a loved one had died. Until Tuesday, a story's subject had yet to attend a funeral following a major sporting event.

In the space of a few unimaginably difficult days, Englot has stood up to the scrutiny while dealing with the misfortune. Additionally, she won four games in a row. It is to marvel.

"She has always been mentally tough," said Saskatchewan fifth Lorie Kehler, a longtime teammate and friend of Englot's. "She has played through a lot of adversity in the last few years.

"I think she's been pretty steady the last few years, but we had a few years -- the (2001 Olympic) Trials in particular -- when she had some stuff going on and she performed well through that, so she's mentally tough.

"Her whole family is a curling family. They've followed each other and played growing up. This is very much what her dad wanted, for her to carry on. I think she's certainly drawing strength from that."

The crowd has also buoyed her spirits.

"The encouragement from the fans has really helped," Englot said. "It has been awesome. The support I've been getting on and off the ice has been very helpful and just incredible."

The same description applies to Englot herself.

"She's just a great competitor," Kehler concluded.

"She's just a good lady."

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008