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Scotties reality setting in for Carey

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(TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES)

The afternoon rush at Fort Rouge Curling Club is starting to swing when Chelsea Carey breezes in. Her arrival cuts the thick smell of french fry grease and wooden tables with a snarl of wintry wind. The ladies of the Tuesday league turn to glance at a Manitoba champion, and then they smile and look away: they're used to seeing Carey striding through the lounge like this. She throws rocks here almost every day.

But this time, on the eve of her departure for Montreal and her first Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Carey is just here to talk.

She is fresh from a job interview, because real life won't wait forever, so she settles into the Fort Rouge lounge wearing a crisp green blazer. This is a more muted image than the one curling fans best know of her, crouched over the ice in a black and purple jacket. But when the Tournament of Hearts kicks off on Saturday, Carey's foursome will be clad in white and yellow, with Manitoba's bison standing guard on their back.

"It's starting to get pretty real," says Carey, 29, just over two weeks after she clinched the provincial title.

In the minutes following that win, a 6-2 victory over Kerri Einarson, Carey floated over to reporters and said she was in a daze. The reality sank in over the ensuing days, as Carey, third Kristy McDonald, second Kristen Foster and lead Lindsay Titheridge tried on Team Manitoba shirts for size and marvelled at the stream of congratulatory texts and tweets that flooded in. And the headlines in the paper, and Scotties paperwork to fill in.

Then there was the time Carey was watching the Continental Cup on TSN, and the camera turned to defending Canadian champ Rachel Homan. "They said, 'she'll be back (at Scotties) as Team Canada, and opening up against Manitoba,' " Carey recalls. "And I'm so used to hearing 'Manitoba' and 'Jennifer Jones,' as is everybody, right? But they said, 'opening up against Manitoba, Chelsea Carey.' That was a 'whoa' moment."

Carey trails off there, then laughs. "It's little things like that. You almost forget, and then you remember and you're happy all over again."

Still, it feels almost inevitable that Chelsea Carey should be here, ready to take her first run at a Canadian championship. She's been in the running before, twice falling in the provincial final before the third time was the charm. Besides, she has the bloodline: she was still a toddler when her father, Dan Carey, slipped her feet into the hack. While he curled at Granite Curling Club she devoured chicken fingers and ran circles around the building's historic rooms.

 

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Please see CAREY D4

 

By then, she was already dreaming of being a curling champion too.

She was in Regina in 1992 when her father -- and now coach -- won the Brier throwing third rocks for Vic Peters. Chelsea, the eldest of two sisters, was just seven years old then, but the memory tumbles from her lips in technicolour: she remembers how the Brier crowd erupted into shouts and screams. She can still feel her little feet tripping over rows of seats, as her ecstatic mother grabbed her by the arm and raced straight down towards the ice.

There, in the crush of curlers and well-wishers, Carey's parents lost sight of their little girl. When they found her minutes later, she was holding court inside a ring of reporters, clutching a white and yellow pom-pom. She was a natural. "My first-ever interview," she laughs. "I was a shy kid, but I jumped right in there when they started. I was loving it."

That was not quite the moment Carey decided to make the curling thing her life, though the rush of it still lingered. She was also a dancer, and until she quit at age 19 that consumed much of her life off the sheet: jazz, tap and some ballet. At first blush, the two pursuits don't seem similar, but there is this: though Carey liked the art of the movements, what she craved most was the sisterhood of dancers, the rush of competition and the lure of the stage.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has curled against her. She is a ferocious competitor.

There are wins that come out of that fire, but losses too. There is so much time in curling to get stuck inside one's head, and when things got tough in competitions Carey's relentless drive sometimes drove her off a cliff: "we were A-side or bust," Carey says frankly, something they now work with a sports psychologist to manage. They've had to learn to become their own cheerleaders, along the way, even as they tear apart their own game.

"I'm not naturally a positive person, I'm sure that's shocking to hear," the skip says, with a wry grin. "But it's an important thing in sports, not getting deflated and defeated. That's the thing about perfectionism. It's a good thing, but a double-edged sword, you have to really manage the other side of it."

So she was especially proud, then, of how the team won this year's provincials, facing four must-win games and with their backs against the wall. Now, she will look to carry that momentum into Montreal, where the country's top curlers will be waiting. She's played most of them on the curling tour many times already, and knows that the competition will be tough. No matter what happens on the ice, though, savouring this first taste of a national championship -- well, that's almost enough.

"Coming from such a hard province to win, you have a sense of, this might be our only chance," Carey says, as she prepared to head back into the cold and a busy day of packing. "It's one thing to win and lose, but at the end of the day I don't want to be so caught up in that that I can't tell a positive story about my experience to my grandkids. The experience is a huge part of it."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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