Wearing the Canadian colours at the Deaflympics is a dream come true for Nyla Kurylowich.
“I’m very excited. I can’t wait to play against other countries,” said the St. Albert curler. “I’m excited to meet new friends too and see the sign language from their countries.”
Kurylowich, 35, is the third for the Team Canada rink skipped by Judy Robertson of Edmonton. Lynda Taylor of Spruce Grove is the second and Arista Haas of Edmonton is the lead. The alternate is Debbie Sutton of Airdrie.
“We will make Canada proud by doing our best,” Kurylowich said.
The 17th Winter Deaflympics start Feb. 18 at Vysoke Tatry, Slovakia. Canada will compete against China, Croatia, Hungary, Russia, Slovakia and the United States on arena ice for medals.
“We want to play hard and enjoy our time together,” Kurylowich said.
Diana Backer of St. Albert coaches the Wednesday night A-side foursome at the Jasper Place Curling Club.
“They do everything we do, they just can’t hear,” Backer said. “Even though they’re deaf they don’t consider themselves to be disabled. They were never born with hearing so they don’t miss it, which I think is just a positive thing. They’re just very good people.”
Robertson, Taylor and Sutton curled with Sally Korol at the 2007 Deaflympics in Salt Lake City and won gold for Canada.
Robertson’s current line-up qualified for the 2011 Deaflympics by finishing first at 5-1 in the four-team draw at the 31st annual Canadian Deaf Curling Championships last year in Richmond, B.C.
They leave Friday to prepare and practice in Bratislava before the International Silent Games start.
The team is also equipped with five new brooms provided free by Olson Curling Supplies.
“We’re so honoured to be going. We’re all proud to be Canadian,” said Kurylowich.
The Puerto Rico-born Kurylowich was introduced to the sport by Robertson in 1999.
“I had no idea how to play curling and fell in love with it ever since,” said the graduate of the Alberta School of the Deaf in Edmonton.
Deaf curlers play the game the same way as those who are not hearing impaired, they just communicate differently.
“We strongly depend on our eyes. We have to look up as much as we can during sweeping to see the skip if she wants to continue sweeping or not,” Kurylowich said. “We also use sign language and never have to yell. We easily understand each other from both ends [of the ice] without yelling. We use lots of facial expressions to let the other players know to sweep harder or softer.”
Backer, 48, is impressed how smoothly they work together.
“With the two sweepers they have one looking back and one looking forward to see the thrower and the person in the house. It’s real cool to watch,” she said.
“It’s always nerve racking watching them on the ice because you want to be there and helping out. I guess that’s sometimes the challenge. When you see something on the ice you know you can sign it to them and tell them it’s wrong but you can’t so I have to sit on my hands. I can voice all I want but it doesn’t help.”
Backer communicates with the team through sign language.
“I don’t need to have an interpreter brought in so I just communicate directly with them and that helps a lot. I know the girls have said they really appreciate that part of it so when we meet weekly for our practices or when I go watch their games on Wednesdays I don’t have to bring an interpreter with me.”
While taking the sign language interpretive program at Grant MacEwan many years ago, Backer met Robertson and a curling friendship was born.
“She helped out with where we would go and interpret and helped us practice. She was basically my deaf model,” Backer said. “One year myself and Judy and Nyla curled together and that was Nyla’s first year of curling and we had a lot of fun.”
Backer was asked to coach the Robertson rink at the 2007 Deaflympics but didn’t have her level 2 required for that level.
“Back in the spring of last year, Judy sent me an email and said, ‘Diana, we’re going to Slovakia. Do you want to come?’ I said sure. I will get my level two done and I did. I’ve always wanted to coach and this was a great motivator to get my level two,” said Backer, who curls with the Garry Guenette mixed rink Thursday nights at the St. Albert Curling Club.
Backer hails from a noted curling family in Lloydminster. She rocked the ice in Winnipeg for several years before moving back to Alberta. She has competed at various provincials and is involved in the Tuesday night ladies league at the Granite Curling Club.
“I love curling and I’m very fortunate to be the coach for this great group of girls,” said the manager of three group homes for adults with disabilities through her work with the Excel Society. “For the deaf community to accept you into that community is really important. It’s a real honour.”
Kurylowich and her three younger brothers were born profoundly deaf, to deaf parents. Married with two kids, a six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son, she works at the Connect Society Playschool.
“I’m always very proud being deaf,” said Kurylowich, who was inspired to live life to the fullest by the following quotation from an unknown author.
“Be proud of yourself, show people who you are and do not allow them to push you down. If they do, they have no knowledge of beauty life in the deaf world.”