Frisco resident Rob Huehmer takes long cut to Las Vegas curling championships
March 23, 2018
Boy, has the world of curling changed since childhood for Frisco resident Rob Huehmer.
"It's incomparable," the Denver Curling Club volunteer ice technician said.
As a Canadian kid growing up in the tiny rural town of Sydenham near the tip of Lake Ontario, Huehmer only curled a handful of times. Well, if you could even call it that.
Rather than the 42-pound, special-delivery granite stones that Huehmer will prep as an ice technician at next month's World Men's Curling Championships in Las Vegas, Huehmer and his friends resorted all those years ago to frozen-solid milk jugs.
And instead of the fiberglass and carbon fiber brushes of today that use "directional fabric" to steer the stone, he and his buds used the kind of corn brooms found in spider-web-riddled corners of garages and sheds.
"We played on a frozen lake," Huehmer recalled. "It was not very smooth — the most imperfect ice you can get. And it was not a very satisfactory experience.
"But it got us out," he continued. "We burned off some energy and the teachers were happy."
For someone from a country that adores the sport of curling, Huehmer took a relatively long and winding road to both find his passion for the sport — he plays a couple times a week — and participate as an ice technician at the highest of levels.
For years, Canada has dominated the sport, namely at the Olympics. The sport has been contested at seven different Winter Olympics, and Canada has won 11 total medals through history. That's three more than Sweden and more than twice as many as any other nation.
And heading into last month's 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the difference between Huehmer's home nation and the one he immigrated to a decade ago — the United States — was stark: 10 Canadian medals, including six gold, to one solitary U.S. bronze medal.
But the world of curling took the biggest jolt in its history exactly a month ago. It was in the early morning hours of Saturday, Feb. 24. That's when the U.S. men's team affectionately known as "The Rejects," defeated Sweden to win the nation's first-ever Olympic curling gold. It came a day after the U.S. team captained by John Shuster defeated the Canadian favorites, led by Kevin Koe.
With the shocking Olympic gold, the squad of Shuster, Matt Hamilton, Tyler George and John Landsteiner became curling cult heroes. They instantly were sudden stars who in the time since have also become: late night TV show talking points, the favorite athletes of Mr. T (yes, that Mr. T) and, even, bobbleheads.
Staying up late to watch the Americans triumphs with family and friends at his Frisco home, Huehmer was proud of The Rejects. He described them as regular, sincere guys that he previously met when working curling "Continental Cup" events in Las Vegas.
"They are down to earth," Huehmer said of the gold medalists. "You hear a lot of folks talking about their 'dad bodies,' but they are human beings. They are nice people."
So it's been quite the curling life for Huehmer, whether he was participating as a kid like the other million-or-so curlers in Canada or watching his newfound home country win its first gold.
But it's the journey that brought him back to the sport that, perhaps, proves more interesting.
If only by happenstance, Huehmer returned to the curling world four years ago thanks to his career as the owner and president of Agualutions Consulting — Huehmer's water quality consulting company.
It was Huehmer's professional expertise in water treatment desalination — the process of separating dissolved salts and other minerals from water — that led the head ice technician at the Denver Curling Club to connect Huehmer with the head ice technician for USA Curling.
And USA Curling had a request for the native Ontarian Huehmer.
"'Hey,'" Huehmer recalled, "'can you help out with water quality challenges so that we can make better quality ice?'"
Ever since, Huehmer has volunteered his consulting services on the water quality at events like the one he will depart for on Sunday: The March 31-April 8 World Men's Curling Championships at the 9,500-seat Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
And it'll be Huehmer's duty to not only serve as one of the 20 American ice technicians pebbling, shaving and layering the pristine, reverse-osmosis ice in Vegas. It'll also be on him to make sure the water that becomes the perfectly pebbled ice at the Orleans Arena has the necessary chemical makeup for those very same best curlers in the world Huehmer watched from the comfort of his Frisco living room a month ago.
"The water quality in Vegas is horrible," Huehmer said. "By the time it's rolled down the Colorado (River) it's been used and re-used. It makes poor quality ice. So I go there, help them make the water, and then stick around to make the ice.
"It's different ice than you'd make for figure skating and ice hockey — it's harder ice made of purer water," Huehmer continued. "And as a result, we are trying to manipulate the friction of it, so the guys out there with the broom sweeping away, they are trying to warm the ice a fraction of a degree. That reduces the friction between the rocks, and they can adjust how far it carries and what the curl is. The science and art of curling is all in manipulating the ice with that broom. And by having more consistent water as we go from competition to competition, we can give them more consistent ice they can play on better."
That's the science behind the sport. But what of the estimated 1,000 Americans nationwide who became so smitten with the sport last month thanks to Shuster's Olympic heroics that they showed up at curling club open houses across the nation for live watch-and-play parties?
"Anyone that is athletic with the time and effort has the opportunity of being good," Huehmer said. "The great thing about curling is, it's reachable. When you watch Red Gerard and what he did on the slopestyle course, I'd never dream of doing that. Curling seems approachable, so go out and do it. With time and dedication every one of us has the physical skill set and fitness and dedication to curl at the top level."
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