Curling: Chess on ice

March 1, 2010

Not everyone raised in Canada spends weekends playing hockey or figure skating. Jennifer Kungle, OD, native Saskatchewan, engages in a less familiar sport-curling.

The sport is curling.

"People describe curling as chess on ice," said Dr. Kungle, who owns The Center for Vision Development in Annapolis, MD. "There's a lot of theory and strategy involved in outwitting your opponent. I really love strategizing."

A club sport

Dr. Kungle moved to Maryland after graduation, working for a practice that specialized in developmental optometry and vision therapy. In 2003, the year before she opened her own practice, she discovered the Potomac Curling Club and joined one of its mixed competitive curling teams.

She vividly remembers the moment she stepped back on the ice with her new teammates.

"The first slide on the ice with my special [curling] shoes was a bit intimidating," Dr. Kungle recalled. "But after that first slide, the ice felt like home."

Her club's season runs from October through April. A curling match involves two four-member teams who each slide a 42-pound granite stone on a sheet of ice toward a target area, referred to as the house. Teammates use special brooms to sweep the ice rapidly in front of the stone to control both its direction and speed. Players take turns throwing stones during an end, which is comparable to an inning in a baseball game. The object of a game of curling is to have as many stones as possible closest to the center of the house by the finish of each end. Often, teams try to knock their opponent's rock out of the house in order to score more points. As in most sports, the team with the most points after 10 ends wins the match.

Winning ways

Dr. Kungle's team has enjoyed more than its fair share of wins. Her team won the 2004 Grand National Curling Club's regional playoffs, then moved ahead to the national finals held in Fairbanks, AK. After playing a weeklong of two to three games each day against nine U.S. teams, her team won a silver medal.

But that was just the beginning of the team's accomplishments. The following year, her team won the regional playoffs again and was invited to the national championships held in Grafton, ND, where it won third place, a bronze metal. In 2006, the team came in second place during regional competitions so couldn't compete in national competitions. But in 2007, her team won fourth place at the national championship games.

Speed and accuracy are important skills in the sport, she said, adding that each team's sweepers determine where the stones end up. During national competitions where each game lasts nearly 3 hours, she said every member of the team throws 20 stones per game.

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