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A lesson in overcoming adversity

Bill FoxAlthough I am not a curler or would not even classify myself as a curling fan, last week, I got up early (5 a.m.) to watch the Olympic gold medal curling mixed doubles game.  Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris couldn’t have imagined this outcome two months ago, after their four-person teams suffered bitter defeats at the Canadian team curling trials in Ottawa.  In previous Olympics, both John and Kaitlyn had won gold medals as members of four-person teams.

Their second chance at Olympic glory came in the form of mixed doubles, which just made its debut at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang.  With Canadian fans cheering loudly, Lawes and Morris captured the first-ever mixed doubles Olympic gold.  The Swiss team conceded in the sixth end (of 8) after falling behind 10-3.

Morris had his mom and dad in the crowd.  Lawes had her mom, brother and boyfriend.  Kaitlyn’s mom brought with her the same flag she draped over Kaitlyn four years ago in Sochi.  But for the Lawes family, there was still someone missing. Kaitlyn’s dad, Keith, died of cancer a little more than 10 years ago.  “My dad is with me every time I’m on the ice,” Lawes said.

Known in his youth as a hot head, Morris admits to snapping about 50 brooms during his career, leaving splinter remnants in curling club locker rooms all over the country.  “But I don’t even attempt it anymore,” Morris said, “I did that back when I was younger and had a bit more testosterone, I guess.  I still have that fire, but I’ve learned to manage it a little better.”  Nine years ago, Morris also hired a mental toughness coach, who I’m sure helped him to be more positive and to deal with the pressure situations and the frustration of losing.

“I have to deal with pressure in curling by playing in front of 20,000 fans for a Canadian championship,” he said. “And I have to deal with pressure at work. In Springbank, Alberta, as a fireman, they have some pretty big homes. When you have a $2-million mansion going up in flames, it definitely gets a rise out of you. But I’ve learned how to focus on the task at hand and breathe in deep when you have to. That helps make sure you don’t get tunnel vision and helps you stay cool under pressure. Even though I’m still not an expert…. but sometimes when I was younger, I let my emotions get the best of me.”

“There are a lot of ups and downs in mixed doubles,” Morris said. “It’s really easy to get down on yourself. I think the key strength to our team is our dynamic. We have a really positive dynamic. We communicated really well in some challenging moments this week.”

At the Olympics, there would be more adversity to overcome as a team.  Lawes had played brilliantly early in the tournament, but in the semi-final against Norway, she found herself struggling in the first half of the game. At the break, Morris told her how much he believed in her ability to make shots. In the second half, Lawes was nearly perfect.

“John just reassured me we have to be patient and we’ll find a way. He gave me the confidence to make those last shots when I needed it,” Lawes said. “That’s a great teammate right there, to not give up on yourself or your teammate. I’m really lucky John brought out the best of me this week.” He gave her a second chance to be great. She seized it.  This was the first time any Canadian has won two gold Olympic medals in curling.

I forgot to mention that my third son, Brendan J. Fox, came over early that morning with coffee and donuts and muffins to watch our golden Olympians.  Proudly, I admit that our son Brendan has been that mental toughness coach for John Morris for the past nine years!

‘BDFOX@rogers.com is where you will find me, but not at 5 a.m. again.  I will watch the re-broadcasts later in the day for the rest of the Olympics.