Strong work ethic has helped Team Martin

CanWest News Service
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VANCOUVER - That Ben Hebert is playing in the Olympics, and that he is half of one of the most physically fit and strongest front ends ever assembled in curling, comes as no surprise to the man who used to back him up at slotback for the Prairie Football Conference's Regina Prairie Thunder.
That would be Chris Getzlaf, who these days happens to make his living catching footballs (41 of them, six for touchdowns, last CFL season) as a slotback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. But when the two were junior teammates, Getzlaf, for a time, found himself behind Hebert on the depth chart before Hebert was shifted to quarterback.
"I definitely was his backup for a few games," said Getzlaf over the phone from Regina. He'll be in Vancouver during the Olympics to watch his brother, Ryan, play for the Canadian men's hockey team, and also hopes to check out a curling game or two.
"Oh, he was a great teammate. I knew Benny a little bit in high school before we played on the Thunder. He was just a fun guy to have in the locker-room. He could bring up anyone's spirits; he can make you smile with just the littlest things. And he was a player; he was the quarterback in high school and moved to receiver and punter with the Thunder. Who knows what he could have done in football? But I believe pretty much anyone can do what they really want if they're willing to work for it."
And without question, Hebert, along with his Team Canada teammates - skip Kevin Martin, third John Morris and second Marc Kennedy - has worked for it. The team has taken training to another level, going year-round on and off the ice in order to gain every possible advantage on a rapidly improving rest off the world.
"We're still normal guys, we like to have a drink after the game," said Hebert. "But at the same time, we've curled when we haven't been training in the gym, and curled when we have, and there's a huge difference. And it makes our team that much better, sweeping-wise, being sharp on the ice, having lots of energy."
The Martin team is not alone. Teams all over Canada have ramped up their training regimens for much the same reason, and a book Morris co-wrote on the topic with Dean Gemmell, Fit To Curl, has already sold half of its initial press run in a little more than five months.
"Raising the fitness level is the way we've gone, and it's the way you have to be to be an elite curler in Canada," said Morris. "If you don't train, you're going to be a step behind. You can't get away with being out of shape with no endurance. It doesn't work."
"I certainly think it's (curlers' level of fitness) getting more respect in Canada," added Canadian women's lead Cori Bartel. "All you have to do is look at Ben and Marc pound a rock out of Kevin's hand and you realize there's a lot of training behind that."
Not to mention athleticism.
Kennedy, too, was a junior football player, a quarterback for the Edmonton Huskies, while Morris is an all-around athlete, and Martin, according to his coach Jules Owchar, was a good enough athlete in college to have made both the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology's powerful hockey team and badminton team.
Despite their efforts, curling still battles to get the same respect accorded other Olympians; countless sneering stories from the U.S. have mocked the athletic requirements of the sport (one writer on Thursday said curling "combines the explosive physicality of shuffleboard with the nuance and precision of hedge-trimming.")
"It does bug me a little bit," said Kennedy, whose teammates on the Huskies included Edmonton Eskimos fullback Chris Ciezki and defensive lineman Justin Cooper. "The sport definitely is changing in Canada, and fitness is a big part of it. It's just a more athletic atmosphere at all of our competitions, and without it, you're not going to survive the three-and-a-half-year grind."
To say the least, Hebert and Getzlaf have taken different paths - "Now he's in the CFL and he's a star, and I'm a curler," said Hebert. "What's up with that?" - since spending the 2001 season with the Thunder, but to see Hebert in the Olympics isn't a stunner for Getzlaf.
"It doesn't surprise me at all," he said. "I mean, he was always good at sports, and then you started to hear more and more about curling the last few years, and obviously it's taken him to a different level."
Canada opens its Olympic curling competition Tuesday against Norway's Thomas Ulsrud.

Organizations: Team Canada, Edmonton Huskies, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Geographic location: VANCOUVER, Canada, U.S. Edmonton Norway

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