West End News: December 13

Alton Lake before the storm.  Photo by Crista Clark
Alton Lake before the storm. Photo by Crista Clark

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Everyone knows that Olympic medalist Cindy Nelson is a West End native, who grew up in Lutsen, skiing at her parents’ ski resort.  But what other world-class athlete grew up - and still lives - in Tofte, competing at the highest level in his chosen sport?  As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now….  the rest of the story.”
 
Sometime in January, Ron Gervais, Sr., will play in his 6,000th game of curling. That works out to an average of 120 games, every year, for 50 years.  Along the way, Ron won 11 state titles and four national titles. In 1980, Ron was chosen for the American team competing at an international tournament in Scotland. In the second game of that tournament, Ron threw an eight ender, which is the equivalent of a royal flush in poker or a perfect score in gymnastics. Only a handful of eight enders are thrown worldwide every year and almost never in a major tournament. The U.S. beat Scotland that year for the first time in the history of the tournament.
 
Ron started curling in 1962, the same year that the Cook County Curling Club was founded by Cook County High School bandleader Harold Ikola.  Young Ron gave it a try and has never looked back.  He’s so well respected in the curling world that he has umpired for the Silver Broom, which is the World Series of curling, not once, but twice. 
 
Although there is no way of knowing for sure, Ron may well have played more games of curling than any living American. He reports that there is a curler in Wisconsin who is about 1,200 games behind him, but can’t possibly curl enough to catch up. Ron attributes his success and longevity to rarely getting sick and staying in shape by cutting firewood. He also gives credit to his wife, Carol, who accompanies him to almost every tournament, sharing the driving and offering support.
 
One more little statistic about Ron’s curling career: Each game of curling requires a player to throw 640 lb. of stones down 150 feet of ice. Just in tournament play, Ron has thrown a total of nearly 2,000 tons of stone. I can only guess that if you include practice, that figure is probably easily doubled or tripled. Maybe curling is keeping him in shape for cutting firewood, not the other way around.
 
Keeping to this week’s ice theme, Carl Hansen and his friend, Crista Clark, were at Sawbill this week, taking care of the business while Cindy and I spent a few days in Duluth. They discovered that Alton Lake was in perfect condition for skating. The entire lake was smooth, black ice from shore to shore. Carl and Crista enjoyed several hours of skating on blades that are specially made to attach to cross-country ski boots. Sadly, the big snowstorm arrived just as we returned from Duluth, so we missed the opportunity. On the upside, the new snow repaired the damage done to the ski trails during the recent warm spell. It also replaced the snow on the trees and, once again, everywhere you look back here in the woods, it is a picture postcard.


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