Sunday, February 24

A Heart This Big

I've been watching sports for a long time, and I've seen some amazing people do some amazing things. But I've never seen anything more amazing than what happened last week in Regina.

Saskatchewan's Michelle Englot was all ready for one magical week -- skipping the home team at a national championship, with a realistic chance to win. She was on the verge of playing for a title she wants very badly, one which has eluded her so far -- and doing it in front of friends and family.

Who could ask for more? The scene was set; the team was ready; the tournament of a lifetime was about to begin. And then the phone rang, and everything came crashing down. Michelle's father, Joe Englot, had passed away during the night.

What could she do? If the tournament were anywhere else, Michelle told the press, she would have gone home. But she was already home. There was no place to go. So the question was one of playing or not playing. And again there wasn't much of an option. Michelle would honour her commitments: to her team, to the event, and to her family. She would do it all -- or at least she would try.

Realistically, nobody could have done what Michelle Englot tried to do last week. Most of us can't even imagine trying to do something like that. Where would you find so much courage? Where would you get so much composure? Michelle only broke down in public once during the whole week -- when she was moved to tears by a standing ovation after a one-sided loss. Who wouldn't be moved by such a show of support?

One question follows another: Where would you get the energy? Where would you find the clarity? How could you compete at this level, against the top teams in the country, in the midst of a family tragedy? How could you handle the public spotlight and the private pain, all at the same time? How could you be gracious to strangers with microphones and cameras who would surround you after every game, asking questions about your family? I can't imagine doing any of that -- let alone doing all of it, not to mention winning some games along the way.

Much will be said of the playoffs, in which Sherry Middaugh missed a double and settled for bronze; in which Shannon Kleibrink missed a double and settled for silver. Much will be written about Jennifer Jones and her team, their run of eight straight wins, and their appearance at the World Championship. And rightly so, in my view. They've done some tremendous curling to get where they are now.

But let's not forget the example of grace and courage that we saw from the grieving Saskatchewan skip, who faced down much more than just granite and pebble and top-class opposition, and who left us with one more great mystery:

How can a woman this small have a heart this big?