Winter 2013

The Curler

Matt Mielke, '13, plays the sport that is like chess and fly-fishing combined

By Bruce Morgan

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“I’m generally the first curler people have met and the first person from North Dakota,” says Mielke with his wide, winning smile. Photo: John Soares

When you encounter Matt Mielke,’13, seated at a comfortable spot overlooking the ice, the guy looks pretty much like any other person in this suburban Boston club—except for the medical textbook splayed open in front of him. He’s studying intently while he awaits his turn to play.

Mielke stands out in more than one way. First, he’s a past national junior champion at curling (in 2006, while a student at Princeton), the silent-glide-and-furious-whisk spectacle that most people glimpse once every four years, during the Winter Olympics. And then he hails from the wind-whipped upper Midwest. “I’m generally the first curler people have met and the first person from North Dakota,” says Mielke with his wide, winning smile.

He comes, in effect, from the heartland of passionate curling. Mielke says that although most of the 15,000 curlers in the United States are located in the East, the most competitive players inhabit the Midwest, where they’re used to traveling from club to club across great distances to hone their skills. Canada leaves everybody in the shade, with something like a million players.

Curling, as you might expect, is a good deal tougher than it looks. Curlers work in four-person teams, consisting of a shooter, the one who drops behind the 42-pound granite stone and propels it with a crouching, Zen-like release down the ice; two sweepers, who move in advance of the stone on either side and attack the ice with brushes to direct the disc laterally, slow deceleration and extend its travel as needed; and the skip, who stands at the far end of the course amid the stones already there and guides his team, contemplating options and signaling tactics all at once. This is Mielke’s usual role. The goal is to reach the center of the distant ring with your stone while clearing out those of your opponent most astutely. It’s like chess and fly-fishing combined.

A visitor can’t help noticing how friendly and good-natured these curlers are. Still, as welcoming as it is, the curling life is not for everyone. A week or two ago, Mielke and some buds drove six hours up to Ontario for a curling tournament and invited his wife, a sometime curler, along for the ride. Did she agree to go? “Uh, no,” he says, laughing. “She didn’t want to get into a car with four guys.”

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