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Louise Gillis – Skip of Sydney, NS Vision Impaired Curling Team

Louise Gillis – Skip of Sydney, NS Vision Impaired Curling Team

January 28, 2021

My name is Louise Gillis, I am Skip of the Sydney (NS) Vision Impaired Curling Team. This story may be entertaining, historical or inspirational as I describe my memorable experience.

As we are currently in a pandemic and so far, I am COVID-19 free, I lived through a Polio epidemic in 1950 but was not so fortunate. I did contract one type of polio and still live with the after effects. As I went through school I was not permitted to take part in sports due to my disability. I was also told that I could not pursue my career of choice. Determination (and maybe stubbornness) I did become the nurse I wanted to be and did very well in my career for 25 years until sudden sight loss lead me to retire.

Over all these years I did try a variety of sports but it was when I first saw curling that is when I realized that it was what I would love to be able to do. I checked it out a few times but really didn’t know much about it other than what I saw on TV. I also thought that it was an “elite” sport that only “elite” people played and I was just an “ordinary” person so passed it off and continued to admire those who did curl most especially the ladies teams.

Then one day following my sight loss and learning to see with limited sight I discovered through the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) that people with sight loss actually were able to curl. Well now, this was an awakening for me. I did some investigating to find a rink, someone that would believe in the idea and a few more people to come on the ice and actually try the game. This took a few years, many laughs at the idea, and finally one day in October 2007 five of us walked on the ice for the first time and have never looked back.

The funny part is in order to find out more about how curlers who are vision impaired and blind actually play the game, the closest place for us was Ottawa. Now how do we manage that! I checked with CCB and discovered there was a national spiel in February. Well, let’s enter! And so we did! We went with the hope of winning ONE END in the eight games we were to play. Our opponents were from provinces mainly Ontario and west. Most of whom had been curling for many years. That did not intimidate us, we were there to learn, and that we did. At that time, we were all female on the team while all other teams were mixed male and female.

We came away from that event “all fired up” with winning 15 ends surpassing our goal. We were awarded the “most inspirational” team. We continued our practices and began playing in house league teams to learn more and eventually entered our own team in Monday and Wednesday night play. We continued attending the AMI Vision Impaired Curling Championship until this year when the event had to cancel. Anxiously awaiting next year!

Also, throughout the years we entered a variety of sighted spiels. We were the first and only vision impaired team to enter the Nova Scotia 55+ games with wins of bronze, silver, or gold each competition. This qualified us to enter the Canada 55+ Games and again winning silver. We were not able to continue due to our changing team dynamics – becoming a mixed team and players under the age of 55.

All this experience definitely improved our game so that we have won all three colours of medals at the AMI VI Curling Championship. We plan to get back once the pandemic is over. The photo attached is our current team in our Team Canada jackets! Proud you ask, well yes, we are. I am in particular because remember I was told that I could not take part in sports or have a career that I wanted. Well, with determination and a strong will I was able to accomplish both. Our team has been able to do a demo prior to semi-final games at the 2010 Tim Hortons Brier and the 2019 ScottiesTournament of Hearts. More very memorable events.

There were many highlights throughout these years. Curling in our vision impaired championship at the Ottawa Curling Club we had the great opportunity to watch and talk with Team Homan as they won junior, Ontario provincials and then the Scotties. It was an honour to have Rachel Homan throw the opening rock one year and then again as a volunteer at the Scotties Tournament of Heart in Sydney I was the one who walked them out on the ice prior to the games. When we won our gold medal the first thing I did was to ask Emma Miskew to design our jackets that we are so proudly wearing in this team photo here.

The moral of my story is to set goals for yourself even when someone tries to discourage you with determination you can achieve them and more too. I did not do this alone. It was through our great volunteer coaches over the years, my team mates, our curling club and our many sponsors over the years.

I never dreamt that I would ever be a national gold medalist. I never planned or expected to be a President of a National Organization and to travel the world to help to improve the quality of life for those living with blindness or in the prevention of blindness. Aim for it, try it, some will achieve their goals but at least you have tried. Curling has made a major impact on my life.

The picture below is 2020 when we lost a second gold medal by millimeters to a team that had been in the goal medal game many times and had finally won. Although disappointed I am happy that this team finally had an opportunity to reach GOLD as well.

Keep on Curling


Feature picture:

Pictured above Front row: Terry Lynn MacDonald – Disignated Sweeper, Mary Campbell – Lead, Louise Gillis – Skip. Back Row: Sidney Francis – Guide/Coach, John Marusiak – Coach/Guide, Jim Simmons – 3rd, Mike Vrooman – 2nd.