Willmar, Minnesota, curling club opens the sport to all abilities


— Every Thursday afternoon during the winter season, the Blue Line Arena at the

Willmar Civic Center

echoes with the roar of curling stones sliding and clacking and brooms sweeping the ice. And then there are the cheers of players supporting each other and celebrating points as the stones head toward the target.

While these sights and sounds aren't uncommon at the Blue Line, the current home of the

Glacial Ridge Curling Club,

the program taking place is definitely a special one. Since 2011, the club has offered Adaptive Curling, opening the sport to even more people no matter their cognitive or physical abilities.

"You don't have to have super, super athletic ability in order to curl," said Kevin Madsen, one of the founders of the club. "People of all physical conditions can do it."

Curling is a sport with a history that dates back hundreds of years. There are depictions of a curling-like sport in 16th-century Flemish paintings, and the first official rules for the game came from Scotland in 1838. Over the centuries and decades, interest in the sport has grown and it was reinstated as an Olympic sport back in 1998.

Willmar's Glacial Ridge Curling Club was established in 2004, and has grown to be a very successful club. It has hosted large national events, and several members have become certified instructors and officials with the United States Curling Association.

The basics of curling aren't too complicated.

Two teams of four take turns sliding the curling stone or rock across a pebbled ice surface toward a target on the other side of the playing lane. Each team tries to get their stone as close to the center of the target as possible. A curling broom is used to sweep the ice, helping move the stone further down the lane and in the direction the team wishes it to go.

While it all may seem simple, there is also a lot of strategy involved.

"In a way, it is a simple game, but it is an exciting game," Madsen said.

Glacial Ridge's adaptive curling program makes a few adjustments to how the game is played to make it more accessible.

Players can use a curling stick, which they use to push the curling stone down the ice while remaining in a standing position, instead of having to crouch down and slide like you see in traditional curling. This makes it easier for those who may have balance challenges or who are just unsteady and unsure on the ice.

Each player also wears special grips on their shoes to help with stability on the ice.

"They do an awesome job and have a lot of fun doing it," said VaLoris Anderson, executive director of Advocacy and Inclusion Matter of West Central Minnesota.

Volunteers from the club do the broom sweeping of the ice for the adaptive players. This year, the club will also assist with transportation for participants. If they can get to the rink for curling at 4 p.m. Thursdays, the club will transport them home if they live in the city of Willmar.

"It is so rewarding for us," to offer the program, said Don Nelson, president of the Glacial Ridge Curling Club.

Both Glacial Ridge and AIM have been promoting the adaptive curling program for the last couple of years to help get more people interested in taking part. The program fits nicely with AIM's key mission when working with people with disabilities.

"Our mission is to make sure there are opportunities within West Central Minnesota for them to stay active and healthy," Anderson said. "This is one great opportunity in a very safe way that everyone can do."

Not only does the adaptive curling provide a fun physical activity for participants, it is also a great social event.

"They enjoy it and make new friends," Nelson said. "They bond together more."

Glacial Ridge has seen the adaptive curling program grow steadily over the years, with more and more people wanting to try it. For some of the players, curling was an activity they never thought they'd enjoy.

"I didn't want to do it, because I was scared to get out there," said Brenda Simning.

However, she conquered her fear last year and started playing. She now tries to come out as often as she can and may even take part in the novice bonspiel in March.

"It is fun," Simning said. "I didn't think I was going to like it, but I liked it."

The volunteers from Glacial Ridge, who assist the adaptive players during their matches, get a lot out of the program as well. Kurt Novotny, who has been the lead instructor for the program several years, said it is a lot of fun to see the players grow.

"It is really nice to see how they progress," Novotny said. "I've seen them go from barely able to go on the ice to 'I can do this.'"

Glacial Ridge would love to expand the adaptive program to more days and times, but ice time is hard to come by at the Civic Center. The club has to share the ice with both hockey and figure skating. This is the main reason why Glacial Ridge has been working for years to raise enough money to build a dedicated curling facility at the Civic Center.

"If we had a dedicated facility, our own facility, we could expand the program," Madsen said.

The club will continue to spread the word about how fun curling can be through its programming, like the adaptive program, and by hosting events and competitions.

From 3 to 8 p.m. Jan. 27, the club will be holding a free public open house at the Blue Line Arena at the Willmar Civic Center. Nelson hopes people come out to experience all that curling has to offer.

"It is open to anyone who wants to come out and try curling," Nelson said. "Have fun and see what curling is all about."