It's been an amazing journey for Landmark native Kristin MacCuish, who started curling at a young age and has found not only a career but a deep rooted love of a sport that has taken her across the country.
Growing up in Landmark, Kristin was introduced to a love of curling at a very young age. "I was in grade four, so right around 9 years old" MacCuish recalls. "My family was always into curling. My auntie (Olympic gold medalist and one of Canada's greatest curlers ever) Jill Officer, used to curl with Jennifer Jones and I watched her from such a young age. My parents and grandparents used to bring us to all of her events she would play in Winnipeg. Just seeing her on that big stage really caught my eye and I wanted to follow in her footsteps."
Looking back on that time of her life, MacCuish remembers kind of keeping curling to herself. "No one really knew at all" she says with a laugh. "There was one other girl from school who curled with me. There wasn't really a lot of kids involved with curling. I don't think many kids understood the level that we played at, at such a young age. I think only now that they've seen me on the Sportsnet highlights or something that some of the kids I went to school with realize now the big stage we were playing on."
Landmark didn't have any options when it came to curling for MacCuish so she had to go elsewhere. "I curled out of the junior program in Ste. Anne. It's only like 15 minutes from Landmark, so it wasn't far."
From Fun To Competitive
Enjoying the game, learning and growing into the sport, MacCuish's career took a turn around the early teenage years. "I was about 13 or 14 and I guess I didn't realize I was good at it. I went to a summer camp in Morden, it was a curling camp and a gentleman by the name of Harold Bender from Beausejour, he passed away now, he approached me and asked if I'd be interested in curling competitive. It was interesting how it all got started and there's no looking back now."
Before that meeting with Bender, MacCuish never thought about curling competitively. "I guess I hadn't thought of it. I just did the junior program on Saturday mornings but never thought about how I would get on to a team. It was a great team. We were pretty good at the competitions we were in. We lost the Provincial finals together. We were one of the top teams in Manitoba once we did put a team together."
Heartache and Lessons Learned
After a couple of years together, the lead of her first team left but MacCuish continued to push on into the world of curling but it wasn't always easy and results didn't come quickly. "We picked up another lead and just continued on curling. Again, (we were) one of the top teams of Manitoba. We lost another couple of provincials together again."
Losing provincials began to wear on the young woman. "It's heartbreaking," MacCuish said after taking in a deep breath. "After the finals, after losing the provincial final, you don't want to do anything for a week or two. You don't even want to think about curling. But, you've put in so much hard work and been so close, you don't want to give up. I saw the hard work my aunt put in over the years and the heartbreak she went through, I just knew that if we put in the hard work, it would pay off."
Vindication in 2012
After coming close numerous times, MacCuish and her team got all the way to the top of the mountain winning junior provincials and it's something she'll never forget. "It was amazing. Finally, all the hard work paid off and I felt on top of the world. Manitoba is a hard province to come out of so, being able to say you represent Manitoba with all the great players in the filed, it was an amazing feeling."
Special Phone Call
A thrill of a life time awaited MacCuish. At first, it seemed like just another phone call from her Aunt Jill, but it soon turned into the thrill of a lifetime for the young curling phenom. "I got to be the 5th for Jennifer Jones. I remember the phone call, my aunt called and obviously I was very excited. I got off the phone with her and I was so nervous and excited getting to be the 5th for Jennifer Jones at the Scotties."
Going from Auntie Jill to a co-worker and teammate was a surreal moment for MacCuish and her family. "I mean, it was nice to be thought of and you never really think that other people or other teams are looking at you and seeing what you can bring to the team. It was a great feeling to know that she and they had confidence in me and brought me along."
MacCuish and team Jones played in Kingston that year and it was an experience that she still holds near her heart. "They lost the Scotties final but getting to sit in with their team meetings, watching everything unfold on the ice is something I really enjoyed."
A cool moment for MacCuish was when she got the team jersey with MacCuish on the back. It was something that still brings a smile. "It was really something. The opening ceremonies. was something too. Getting to take it all in, walking out onto that blue carpet, I can still picture it. It was an awesome experience. I can remember my Aunt looking at me during the whole ceremonies. She was so excited for me to be there with her. It was so amazing getting to share it with her."
If there was any doubt left at all about what Kristin MacCuish was meant to do, it all disappeared in those moments.
Curling was her calling.
"I just couldn't wait to get back with my own team and represent Manitoba."
More Heartbreak... But Then 2016
After losing a couple more times at provincials, MacCuish and her team went into 2016 with a single goal in mind, win.
MacCuish can recall the support from the town of Beausejour where the event was being held. "It was Selena Njegovan, who is our Third, it's her hometown. So we were the favorites that week. We had a lot of friends and family come down to cheer us on. The town was behind us and it was really nice to have. The fans were amazing."
The win didn't come easy, there were battles. "It wasn't looking so good for us early in the game" MacCuish describes. "We kind of stuck in there. We fought. We scored three points in the ninth end and broke away from them. We made our shots in the 10th end and we were able to pull it off finally."
Trying to put those moments into words after winning that match and all the heartbreak before it, MacCuish still lights up. "It was an incredible feeling that our hard work finally paid off. We didn't give up. We didn't give up and it felt really good."
End of an Era
After having the same team together for a long time, MacCuish knew there would be changes and eventually, they did come. "In the curling world, there's quadrennials, everyone tries to stick together for four years, the Olympic cycle. After that four year run, we decided that we needed a change. I knew I wanted to stay with Selena, we've curled together for 15 or 16 years now, so we knew we wanted to stay together. We knew we enjoyed playing with Liz (Fyfe) so we figured it just be easiest to get a Skip."
It was a process finding the new Skip for a team looking to take the next step in curling.
"We threw out some names, approached some people we were interested in, just to get a feel for what they were doing. We really talked about it two weeks after the Scotties just because we knew everyone else would be trying to figure out what they were doing. It doesn't take long for teams to form or people to start talking so we knew we had to get in on it right away."
Starting A New Era
Fate sometimes plays roles in meetings and how teams get together. A situation came up and MacCuish and her team was paired with the right person at the right time.
"Selena had approached Tracy Fleury. Tracy was actually thinking about taking some time off from curling, just because her team from Northern Ontario thought they might step back a little bit, to focus on careers and family. But with us approaching Tracy, she was very excited and jumped on board right away."
Tracy was the perfect fit.
"It did not take long at all for us to mesh together. Tracy is super down to earth, the most kind person I've met. Just with her, she still lives in Sudbury, Ontario which makes her an import and I wasn't sure how that would work out. I mean, we didn't know her that well and it was different her living in a different province, but she fit in right away. It felt right."
Not Just Winning But Who You Beat
It was like a Hollywood movie script this year during the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts as MacCuish and Team Fleury faced off against her former skip Kerri Einarson for the right to represent Manitoba in Nova Scotia in mid-February.
Fleury, Third Selena Njegovan, Second Liz Fyfe and Lead Kristin MacCuish rallied from an early 5-1 deficit and defeated Einarson 13-7 in the provincial final on a cold Sunday at the Gimli Recreation Centre.
While there was no hard feelings about the old team breaking up, MacCuish admits it was great to win and also satisfying to do so against her former Skip. "Of course there was a little extra motivation. I know we're going to play each other our entire careers. No hard feelings but in any big game, you want to be the one that's on top."
One team can win and it was Team Fleury that earned the right. "We worked really hard this year. Even off the ice. In the gym, throughout the summer, we worked harder than we ever have before. It felt better because we put in so much hard work."
Fleury, Njegovan, Fyfe and MacCuish will represent Manitoba at the Canadian Women’s Curling Championship in Sydney, Nova Scotia from February 16-24. "It's going to be a long week" MacCuish admits. "You want to go in and make Manitoba proud. It'll be a long week but it's going to be great."
Small Town Girl At Heart
For Kristen MacCuish, the higher she climbs up the ladder of the curling world, the more she stays true to her humble roots. Landmark will always be with her, no matter where she goes and she's more than proud to represent.
"Sometimes, you don't think a whole lot of people watch curling, but when you go to the gas station, people stop you and tell you you're doing a good job. It's so great that people take an interest and follow what you're doing and are proud you're from Landmark."
The Future Is Bright
MacCuish is just scratching the surface of what could be an amazing career in curling and she keeps her focus on what comes next. "Hopefully, a Scotties title and to represent Canada at the worlds."
The Olympic dream is also there and it's closer than ever before.
"We were close last year, we were in the pre-trials. It's something our team is working towards for 2022. If we can keep on going how we're going this season and accumulate enough points, Olympic trials are in store for us I think."
Driving into Landmark, there's a big sign that says "Heart Of Canada" and one day, there could be the add on of "Home Of Kristin MacCuish" and that's a thought that MacCuish definitely enjoys. "Heart of Canada and Home of Kristin MacCuish... yeah, that could be pretty cool."