Wayne Middaugh had finally come to terms with a retirement from competitive curling that he didn’t choose when his former teammate, Glenn Howard, posed an unexpected question: “Would you come to the Brier?”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ecstatic to get the opportunity,” Middaugh said. “This is who I am. I’m a curler. I was excited to play again.”
However, this was about more than shaking off a few years of rust.
In 2016, the Brampton, Ont. native was hospitalized after a serious ski crash that shattered his leg in 11 places. He’d undergo multiple surgeries, have a titanium rod implanted in his leg, and spent the next two years regaining his ability to walk normally.
“I went from a month in bed to three months in a wheelchair, to crutches and a year and a half of physiotherapy,” Middaugh, the first person in Brier history to win at three different positions, said.
He retired from curling and was promptly inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame, as a three-time Brier and three-time world champion.
Howard still had a hunch of what his old teammate could still be capable of. The pair won two Briers together: in 1993, as part of Russ Howard’s Ontario rink, and 2012.
Ironically, it would be another injury that brought them back together on the national stage.
Howard was recently in a snowmobile accident that broke nine of his ribs and cracked his sternum.
“I’m very fortunate,” Howard said. “I’m here, I’m breathing, I’m standing.”
While he hoped to play in the Brier, there were no guarantees.
With Howard sidelined for his team’s opening draw against Greg Skauge’s Northwest Territories rink, Middaugh didn’t miss a beat.
He curled at 85 per cent, capping a dominant 9-5 win-off with a pristine draw for three points in the final end.
“It felt great to be able to make that shot,” Middaugh said with a smile. “But I’m not gonna lie to you. I literally practiced that shot 100 times over and over just for that situation.”
Paid off, right?
“This is the difference between Wayne Middaugh and anybody else,” Howard said.
“He hasn’t been playing a competitive game in five years and yet he goes out there and draws to the four foot when he needs to. That’s what we expected and that’s what we got from him today.”
Howard, 58, and Middaugh, 53, are now the veterans in the Calgary bubble. They’re going up against some competitors who hadn’t even been born when these two appeared in their first Brier.
But they’ve got heart that will rival any competitor.
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