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Maggie Hendricks

Try curling -- it's sweeping the nation

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In the U.S., we get a reminder about the awesomeness of curling every four years, when we get to see the Olympians show how it's done on primetime television. However, there is a small but growing group of Americans that don't wait until Olympic years to see the stone glide down the ice.

Curling is gaining popularity across the U.S. USA Curling has 154 registered clubs, in both the expected places, like Casper, Wy. and the unexpected, like Wake Forest, N.C. The Chicago Tribune reports that the four clubs in the Chicago area are expecting a surge in membership with the Olympics.

The appeal of curling is that a person doesn't have to be an amazing athlete to try it. You don't have to be young, or in perfect shape, or a hulk of a man. Curlers with knee problems can modify the sport so that they continue to play, attracting curlers of all ages.

But that's not the only reason people like it. SB Nation's Spencer Hall tried it, and he was hooked.

Curling is mesmerizing for one reason: it's simplicity. Chess on ice is the usual comparison, but it may be even simpler than the endless variations and gambits of Kasaparov's game. Leaning out on the hack and staring down the ice, curling engages the game-playing brain at its most basic and addictive of levels. Put this there; leave space here; completely screw over opponent. Like the best games, it is a true zero-sum game, but unlike chess involves the body, a kind of meditative rock-toss you do over and over again until you're in the wordless space Zen Buddhist monks are always blabbing on and on about. The ice helps: there's blank whiteness, a few lines, and everything else evaporates away.

Beyond that, curlers talk about a camaraderie that they don't find in many other sports. After games, regardless of the winner, the curlers sit together and enjoy a beer.

This doesn't mean the game is not athletic. Hurling a 44-lb. stone down the ice and/or sweeping furiously to help it reach the right spot isn't easy. To do it at an Olympic level is an incredible feat.

Unlike figure skating or ski-jumping, it's relatively easy to try the sport out. Check in with USA Curling to find a club near you. If you don't want to put in the athletic effort, at least make a donation to the team. You may end up as a curling VIP.

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