Leyden’s Rodgers curls her way onto national scene

  • Rebecca Rodgers releases a stone at the Petersham Curling Club last week. The 17-year-old Leyden native and Pioneer Valley Regional School senior will compete in three national curling championships over the next month beginning today with the Mixed Doubles National Championships. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Rebecca Rodgers prepares to release a stone while practicing at the Petersham Curling Club last week. Rodgers began curling after watching the Olympics eight years ago and now has dreams of one day competing in the Olympics. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Rebecca Rodgers at the Petersham Curling Club on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 in Petersham. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Rebecca Rodgers at the Petersham Curling Club on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 in Petersham. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Rebecca Rodgers at the Petersham Curling Club on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 in Petersham. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

For most of us, watching curling during the Olympics has become a guilty pleasure, one that we will all get to experience in a few short weeks when the 2018 Winter Olympics take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea from Feb. 9-25.

Leyden’s Rebecca Rodgers will also be glued to all of the action on the sheet, although the 17-year-old will be looking on with added interest.

The senior at Pioneer Valley Regional School has a budding career in the sport, one that she hopes will one day include the opportunity to compete at the Olympics.

Rodgers has been curling since the 2010 Olympics, which seemed to be the time that the sport really burst into the national spotlight as it was prominently featured on television throughout the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Canada. That winter, Rodgers’ father John and sister Rachel both got into the sport as they went to the Petersham Curling Club’s “Learn to Curl” event, which returns again this season. Rebecca tagged along and fell in love with the sport.

Her love for curling has grown since that time and she now competes in tournaments across the country, including three upcoming events. Rodgers is in Eau Claire, Wisc. for the U.S. Mixed Doubles National Championships which begin today. The tournament runs through the weekend. She is partnering with Charlie Thompson, of Eau Claire, Wisc. for the event, someone who she met this past summer while competing in a tournament. Those two will be one of 22 teams vying for the title, and the winning team will represent the country at the 2018 World Mixed Doubles Championships, which take place in Sweden in April. Rodgers said that roughly half the teams in that field actually competed to represent the United States at the Mixed Doubles Olympic Trials, as the sport is new to the Olympics this winter.

The following weekend is another big one for Rodgers, as she will travel to Detroit, Mich. for the 2018 Junior National Championships, which is an Under-21 field consisting of 10 women’s and 10 men’s teams made up of the usual four curlers. Rodgers is on Team Podoll, which is skipped by Beth Podoll (Fargo, N.D.) and also consists of Emily Quello (Bemidji, Minn.) and Susan Dudt (Malvern, Pa.).

Finally, Rodgers will head to Bemidji, Minn. from Feb. 20-25 to compete in the Under-18 National Championships where she joins Dudt as well as Anna Cenzalli (East Falmouth) and Sydney Mullaney (Concord). Unlike the Under-21 Championship, the Under-18 is restricted to teams comprised of players within specific areas of the country. Rodgers is the Vice-Skip for the Under-18 team, and the Lead for the Under-21 team. The vice skip is the second in command on the team, while the lead is the person who throws the first stones of each “end,” or inning during the match.

It may seem that partnering with so many different players could be a challenge, but Rodgers said she has bonded with each team.

“Communication is a really important aspect of curling,” she explained. “Once you’ve bonded and have that good communication, it becomes easier. We coordinate with each other and make sure to put plenty of practice time in at our home curling rinks.”

For Rodgers, that means plenty of time spent traveling east on Route 2 to Petersham, where she spends three or four nights a week practicing and playing. Rodgers is a member at Petersham, and membership allows players to play in any of the leagues offered at the club. She also dances three or four nights a week at Pizazz Dance Studio in Greenfield, which she said is important for her to stay in shape for the grueling sport of curling.

Rodgers has emerged as a top sweeper on her teams, which means she is in charge of going along the sheet of ice and sweeping the broom in front of the stone. One trip down the ice working the broom, remaining balanced, and making sure not to hit any other stones is a workout alone. 

The grueling schedule has not taken away from Rodgers’ academics. She said that her teachers at Pioneer have been supportive of her passion for the sport, which has included a lot of travel.

“It’s been hard at times, but I’ve learned to do my homework in the car,” she said. “My teachers have been really flexible with my traveling.”

Rodgers hopes to continue her pursuit of playing at the next level after she graduates from high school. She has been accepted to the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire, which puts her in the heart of curling in the country. The club where she will compete in the Mixed Doubles National Championships this week is 10 minutes from campus, and the national training center for curling in Blaine, Minn. is about 90 minutes from campus.

“I want to be closer to where more curling things are happening,” she said. “It’s very exciting and eye-opening. I’m along for the ride and want to see where it gets me.”

The next step is to make the United States High Performance Program, which consists of the top curlers in the country, including the teams skipped by John Shuster and Nina Roth, who will represent the country at the upcoming Olympic Games.

“My hope is to qualify for the Olympics one day,” she said. “Making the High Performance Program is a huge step.”

Rodgers will try out for the program in the spring if all goes according to plan.

Who knows, in four years we may be rooting for the local to qualify for the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.

To check out Rodgers in action at the Under-21 National Championships from Jan. 27 through Feb. 3 see the USA Curling page at www.teamusa.org for live streaming. Also, see Jaywalking in the coming weeks as Rodgers prepares readers with rules and tips for watching the sport at the Olympics, as well as a schedule for events open to the public at the Petersham Curling Club for anyone interested in trying the sport firsthand.