For Ethan Hebert, curling was a case of love at first sight when he tried the sport at age 6. For Alina Tschumakow, time away made her realize how much she truly enjoyed its social and competitive aspects.
Next month, the pair of 16-year-olds will head to Switzerland as part of a four-person mixed format squad that represents the United States at the World Youth Olympic Winter Games.
“I don’t know how many people realize what kind of a sport curling is,” said Tschumakow, a West Roxbury resident who is a junior at Boston Latin School.
“It’s not only about winning. It’s about the grace you show when you are winning and the respect for all your teammates and competitors.”
Thanks to their parents, Tschumakow and her older sister, Nadia, were introduced to curling about 10 years ago. While she enjoyed it, as she got older she admitted her interest wandered a bit, and she decided to take a break. But it was that year away from the stones that made her realize it was something she wanted back in her life.
During the past three years, she has played competitively at Broomstones Curling Club in Wayland and for her home club at The Country Club in Brookline. She is a two-time Under-18 national qualifier who was part of the girls’ team that won gold at the 2019 U-18 national championships in Wisconsin.
That team went on to play in a tournament in Canada, but this is the first time Tschumakow will be competing in Europe.
“I was a little hesitant to do it because it was that little extra step up in competition level,” she said. “But Ethan [who also plays with the Broomstones Curling Club] was someone I know and someone I knew I could trust to be a good teammate with me. It made it a little easier.”
Hebert, a sophomore at Lowell High, is a three-time national qualifier and team skip – or captain – for the Youth Olympic Games squad that includes Tschumakow, Charlie Thompson of Eau Claire, Wisc., and Katie Murphy, of Fairview Park, Ohio. The competition will run from Jan. 10 to 22 in Lausanne.
Hebert and Tschumakow recruited Thompson and Murphy to the team that beat out 10 other squads during a qualifying event at the Denver Curling Club in Golden, Colo., in October. Over the summer, the Bay State duo traveled to Blaine, Minn., to practice with Murphy and Thompson. Hebert and Tschumakow noted that the foursome quickly developed the chemistry necessary to succeed on the ice.
“Curling is a big sport on team dynamics,” Hebert said. “There is no other sport where you are together 24/7 during a competition. You stay together. You have meetings before and after every match. It’s like for those few days you are a really small family. It’s a really small, tight-knit community overall. You get to know everybody. There are a lot of good people in the curling world.”
Curling was developed in Scotland in the 1500s with the first clubs dating back to the 19th century. It involves two four-person teams that alternate sliding large stones across the ice toward a bull’s-eye 126 feet away.
It was introduced as an Olympic sport in 1924, briefly dropped, then brought back as a demonstration sport at Lake Placid in 1932. It was reintroduced as a demonstration sport in 1988 and 1992 before becoming a medal sport at the 1998 Nagano Games. Over the past two decades it has become an Olympic phenomenon — the men’s final between the US and Sweden attracting 1.6 million viewers on NBCSN in 2018. That was second only to the women’s ice hockey final between the US and Canada – which drew 2.9 million viewers – in NBC’s late-night time slot coverage of the PyeongChang Games in South Korea.
“It’s definitely growing,” Hebert said. “It’s a lot bigger than it used to be. It’s a unique sport. It’s one of those where you either love it or you hate it. If you try it, and you like it, you will become addicted to it.”
Those who want to try curling have several options in Massachusetts. Along with Broomstones in Wayland, there are clubs in Brookline, the North End of Boston, Bridgewater, Falmouth, Hopedale, Marlborough, Orleans, and Petersham. Many offer learn-to-curl programs each winter.
Hebert and Tschumakow’s team will be among 24 countries competing in Switzerland in the mixed division as part of a round-robin tournament. The players also will then be randomly selected to 48 mixed doubles teams for more of a social competition.
Hebert said the primary focus of the trip will be advancing as far as he can with the team that includes Murphy, Thompson, and Tschumakow.
“We have known each other for a long time,” he said of Tschumakow, “and see each other a lot since we’re in the same age range. We’re both really serious about it, and about the same level, and we work really well together.”
Scott Souza can be reached at ScottSouza@journalist.com.