Pat Popovich slid her first stone down a sheet of ice 12 years ago when she attended a learn-to-curl session at Chaparral Ice.
Story and Photo by Gretchen M. Sanders
“I was hooked from day one,” she says.
Soon, her life revolved around this peculiar sport, which originated centuries ago in Scotland.
Cross shuffleboard with bowling then add ice, and you get something akin to curling. But no skates are allowed. Curlers wear special shoes and sling stones across the ice toward an area called the house, a group of embedded circles where points are scored. Curlers can sweep the frozen surface with special brooms to increase a stone’s potential to score.
“It was a weird sport to me at first,” says Popovich, who, at 68, isn’t easing up on her game. “It was weird being on ice in Austin, but Austin embraces the weird.”
A longtime member of Lone Star Curling Club, Popovich has competed with and against Olympic curlers, including 2018 American gold medalist John Shuster. She has represented Austin at national and international bonspiels, aka tournaments, and is a certified curling instructor.
Here’s how this curling crackerjack stays in stone-throwing shape.
“I wake up at 5:45 a.m. and stretch for a few minutes before I get out of bed. I punch the air about 100 times, twist my torso and flex my feet. Then I go downstairs and make coffee. I have oatmeal soup when I get to work—raw oats and nonfat milk with blueberries and a small banana cooked together.”
“I curl for two hours once a week at Chaparral Ice year-round. It’s a workout. Sweeping the ice is done in fast, vigorous spurts. It elevates my heart rate and works my back and arm muscles. This sport requires good balance. Yoga can help curlers control their delivery and shifting body weight when they throw stones. General fitness is also important. I strive to take 10,000 steps per day. I also do two 30-minute get-fit classes a week after work.”
“I’m always aware of what I’m eating. I like fresh food, such as poached salmon and Brussels sprouts tossed with olive oil and cinnamon. Growing up in Hawaii, I learned to try different things. I don’t like sauces because I want to taste the food I’m eating. I usually go out for lunch during the workweek. I’m not a big dinner person; an apple and cheese with some olives or almonds is enough. Before I curl, I eat a banana, a yogurt or an energy bar. I have a fast metabolism and burn food fast. People tell me it’s not fair. I love red wine and a good margarita, and I must have a piece of dark chocolate every day.”
“Curlers need warm, flexible clothes. Yoga or exercise pants work well. It’s cold on the ice, so I dress in layers, with thin socks under wool socks because my feet get especially cold. I wear a long-sleeve shirt under a T-shirt with a jacket and thin gloves. I use a lightweight Goldline broom with a swivel head and BalancePlus shoes. Curling shoes cost $100 or more and have a Teflon slider built into the one that goes on your sliding foot. The other shoe has a gripper so it doesn’t slide. The league provides our rocks. Curling rocks come from a quarry in Scotland, weigh 42 pounds each and cost $5,000 for a set of eight.”
“Curling is fun, athletic and strategic. You have to think. It’s known as chess on ice. It truly is a team sport.”
“I know I have the shot in my repertoire. I know what my skip wants. I can execute what’s asked of me to help the team.”
“I’m reading The Martian by Andy Weir right now. It’s funny. Lights out at 10:30 p.m.”