Midday at the Vernon Curling Club is mostly quiet, other than the roaring of curling rocks sliding down the ice. On ice sheet #4, wheelchair curler Ina Forrest uses her curling stick to push a stone down the sheet with precision. She’s been curling for about 15 years and, with the help of long-time coach Sharon Morrison, is training for her fourth Paralympic Games.
Members at the Vernon Curling Club may have noticed the differently shaped rock handles on sheet #4 and have wondered about them. To spread some curling handle knowledge, they’re called Thompson handles, and the ones used for the rocks at the club are Curlex handles. Paralympic athlete Ina Forrest and her wheelchair curling stick head is designed to work with the Curlex handles, but not as much with the Thompson handles. So when Team Canada was notified that the handles that were going to be used at the 2022 Paralympics in Beijing were Thompson handles, they were given funding from the Canadian Paralympic Committee to provide the same handles to each team member so that they could get used to them and perfect their game.
This is Ina’s fourth time attending the international games, but this time it’s different. The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we participate in sporting events, at least for the time being. Just to make it to Beijing, Ina and her fellow athletes will be required to isolate for weeks and take multiple PCR tests. The 3-time Paralympic medalist says her entire team will arrive in Richmond, British Columbia on February 6th, take a first COVID test, and begin a two and a half week isolation period. During this time, the team is able to train together in preparation for the upcoming event. The whole team must test negative prior to their flight on February 25th, which they share with fellow Canadian athletes.
The village at the Paralympics will be similar to our everyday life here in BC; masks are required everywhere they go, except on the ice. Ina compares the Paralympics to the World Championships in 2021, expecting that the daily PCR tests at the 2021 event will likely be routine at the 2022 Paralympics as well.
COVID-19 has affected the team’s ability to practice together as well. Normally, Canada’s wheelchair curling team typically comes together to train once a month, which is now no longer possible. Despite this, Ina’s individual training continues to be regular. She says that most of her time training is spent right here in the club. Aside from playing in league games twice a week, she trains 2-3 times a week with long-time friend and coach Sharon Morrison. In addition to perfecting her game on the ice, Ina also works with a personal trainer weekly, and consistently uses her own home gym. In terms of nutrition, the 2-time gold medal winner says she makes sure to up her protein intake to maintain muscle. She is taking a select few staples to Beijing that the team isn’t sure they will provide at the games, but Ina says the food is usually more than adequate at the Paralympics, so it isn’t too much of a concern for her.
As a member of the wheelchair curling National Team for almost 2 decades, Ina has her pre-game ritual figured out, though she wouldn’t even call it a ritual. Her secret to performing well on the ice is making sure she is relaxed and happy before getting into the game. The way she does this is through music. Many athletes have a specific song or artist they religiously listen to to get in the zone, but Ina says that any music that makes her happy does the trick.
Ina says she is extremely grateful for the help that the Vernon Curling Club has given her by temporarily installing the Thompson handles on sheet #4, and for the rest of the staff and club members that accommodated her practices in preparation for the 2022 Beijing Paralympics. Wheelchair curling will take place March 5th to March 12th, and Ina and her teammates will return home sometime between the 14th and 15th.