Injured during peacetime while serving in the US Marine Corps in North Carolina back in 1981, George Eldridge went on to have 51 surgeries, was confined to a wheelchair, and at a loss with what to do. Upon having a leg amputated, just when it seemed like there were no options, he found out about a long list of sports and activities in which he could participate despite his handicap.
Among them was curling.
Eldridge, a 52-year-old from Shelton, has been curling for three years. He first was exposed to the game when he attended a learn-to-curl program through Gaylord Hospital. Curling has since taken him to different parts of the country for tournaments.
Eldridge, a member of the Nutmeg Curling Club, which is based at Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport, has improved his game significantly since first getting involved. In fact, he recently went to Wisconsin to try out for the 2018 US Paralympic Curling Team and came in ninth overall and was sixth for the men’s wheelchair team. The top five men (and top three women) were selected.
In other words, Eldridge came up just short despite an outstanding showing, especially considering he was trying out against former paralympians. Placing first at pre-trials in Minnesota earned him the invitation to attend the tryout. Eldridge now has his sights on the 2022 Olympics.
He competes in the Nutmeg Club’s Friday League and practices a couple of times each week. In early December, Eldridge went to Utica, N.Y. for an international curling tourney, which is called a bonspiel.
Eldridge credits, among others, US paralympic team member Steve Emt for helping him learn the ropes of curling.
“Now I’m teaching people how to curl,” said Eldridge, who helps out at clinics, adding that he is hopeful more wheelchair-bound athletes will come out give curling a try.
“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” said Eldridge who, along with his wife, Cheryl, has a 26-year-old son now serving in the Marine Corps.
Eldridge feels that the game of curling is like shuffleboard and chess on ice.
The basic concept of curling is to score points by sliding a 40 pound rock across a pebbled sheet of ice as close as possible to the center of the circle, or house. Teams of four compete against each other generally for two hours at a time. There is a lot of strategy involved as teammates can bump opponent’s rocks, push teammate’s rocks, or try to slide theirs into a place that allows the rock to serve as a guard, protecting well-placed rocks from opposing team’s shots.
Each team has a lead, second, vice and skip. The skip calls the shots from the house, guiding the other players as to how to throw and sweep. Two curlers go alongside the thrown rock and sweep, per the skip’s orders, to help guide the rock. Sweeping serves two purposes. It subtly melts the ice to create less friction, allowing the rock to go a greater distance, and also enables teams to straighten the path the rock is on.
Eldridge also skis, kayaks, whitewater rafts, and plays wheelchair basketball, sled hockey, and golf.
For more information, visit nutmegcurling.com.