Battling life-threatening illness has changed Colleen Jones’s view on life

The Eh Game

Watching her during this week's Scotties Tournament of Hearts Jones still has the drive and determination that helped her win three Canadian women's curling championships and two world titles. But a brush with death has given her a different perspective on the world.

Life changed for the veteran curler from Halifax back on Dec. 4, 2010, when she was struck with bacterial meningitis. That's an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. According to the Centers for Disease Control in the United States most people will recover but it can cause brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. It can also be fatal.

"I think there was the pre-meningitis me and the post-meningitis me," said the 53-year-old who is the second and vice-skip on Mary-Anne Arsenault's Nova Scotia rink. "I am less an A-type personality. I'm now A-minus, maybe a B-plus."

Jones is making a record 21st appearance at this week's Scotties. It's also is her first time back at the Canadian women's championship since 2006.

"I'm glad to be back," she said. "By the same token if it hadn't worked out, that's sort of life. It's not every day that when you are 53 you get an opportunity to come back and play in this event. You know time is no longer on your side. That's the reality."

For Arsenault, having Jones on her rink is like slipping on a pair of comfortable shoes.

"She is very spunky," said the massage therapist who played second on Jones's 2004 world championship team. "She adds a flavour for sure and a lot of years of ice calling.

"It's nice to have her in my corner."

Jones now looks at life through the eyes of someone who almost had everything taken away. That's brought some things into focus.

"Like any person that is going through an illness the last thing you ever think about is anything but let's survive," said the veteran television announcer.

"After that you come back with a new perspective on everything . . . enjoying the small moments and living more moment to moment, staying present all the time. Do I do that every day? No. But I try to do that every day. I try to live a less stressful life. I try to take time for the things that are really important."

Jones said she will never lose her competitive spirit, but it might be more controlled.

"I think you are born with that fire and it never goes away," said the mother of two sons. "When I step on the ice I'm excited, I'm nervous and I really want to win. That drive, I don't know if that will ever leave me.

"That's always been a battle for me, to have this perspective of balance and blissfulness. I want that but it's a total polar opposite to what I need to compete well. That polar opposite leaves in me the drive to win, that killer instinct."

Jones likes the person she has become. There was nothing really wrong with the old one, it's just the new model is a little more finely tuned.

"I didn't mind the old one but I do like living life with awareness and living with a mindfulness," she said. "I buy into the fact having more isn't important. Just being is what matters."

Jones accepts this year's Scotties could be her last. At the same time she won't stop believing the Arsenault rink has a chance to qualify for the 2014 Winter Games and she could add an Olympic medal to her collection.

"There's lots of room for pushing to do more," Jones said. "I think age is really just a number. Experience is a powerful tool. We're lucky enough to play in a sport where you could play a long time.

"As an old country tune by Toby Keith says, I'm as good once as I ever was."

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