ITHACA, N.Y. — About five years ago, a man found the perfect rutabaga for the International Rutabaga Curling World Championship at the Ithaca Farmers Market.
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It was huge. It was oblong. It “tumbled” instead of rolling.
Steve Paisley, a first time rutabaga curler, won a silver medal that year.
Determined to find his way to historic curling success at the annual event, Paisley froze the rutabaga. Two years later, he won the gold.
The next year, a new rule was put into place dictating that all contestants use fresh rutabagas for the competition. Paisley said he felt like organizers were gunning for him and his ‘baga. So he brought his frozen rutabaga to the competition in defiance.
“Were were eyeing each other,” he said about the referee with whom he exchanged traditional “smack talk” with. He didn’t know what would happen when he threw his ‘baga. But he does know one thing:
“I didn’t expect to get body slammed.”
His ‘baga was thrown off the dock by the farmer’s market and Paisley didn’t place in the competition with a shoddy replacement.
As he sulked by the dock later, he saw something floating.
“It looked like a dead fish,” he said. But no, it was his now semi-frozen rutabaga. He fished it out and faithfully put it back into his freezer. Alas, all good things must come to an end. He moved to Syracuse for graduate school the following year and the ‘baga couldn’t make the trip.
The 18th annual competition starts Sunday at noon at the Ithaca Farmers Market and anyone who wants to participate must arrive no later than 10:30 a.m.
Paisley wrote a blog entry on his website, Every Day is Poetry , about winning the gold. It’s been republished below with permission. The photos are by Jerry Feist. To read Paisley’s other stories about his Rutabaga adventures in Ithaca, check out the following links:
After my notable second-place finish at the 2009 Rutabaga Curling International World Championships (one rutablogger referred to me as “…the man with the huge oblong rutabaga…”), I approached the 2010 Games with the sense that I held my destiny in my own hands. Or, more accurately, that I would soon be holding it in my my right hand. I still had the outsized, misshapen, paradigm-shifting rutabaga I had used in 2009, carefully preserved in yards of Saran Wrap and a ziplock bag, in my freezer.
No longer possessing the vibrant coloration of its youth, and having suffered significant freezer burn during its long confinement, my ‘baga was nonetheless still throwable. But, despite the months of tough physical and mental training I had put in that year…
….my first-round hurl went awry. (Was I perhaps wearing the wrong hat?)
At the end of the day, I found myself watching resignedly from the sidelines….
….while another curler stood in that place on the platform I felt could have been mine.
2011, I vowed, would be different. This, then, is the story of those games.
It is the bitterly cold morning of December 17th, 2011. At the Farmer’s Market in Ithaca, NY, Billy The Rutabaga-Sniffing Wonder Dog is on hand to greet to spectators and competitors alike to this year’s curl.
To the heart-stirring strains of TheTheme from Chariots of Fire, the other curlers and I hold our vegetables proudly aloft as we march in the Parade of the Athletes.
Looking at those around me, I can’t help but wonder:
“Which of thes stellar athletes, alongside whom I have just marched in the Parade, might I soon find pitted against me for the Championship?”
At the close of opening ceremonies, the High Commissioner raises the traditional Golden Chalice….
….and the games begin!
While the curlers of today have adopted a wide variety of “scientifically” designed techniques and stances…
…and while much effort has been spent in exploring various ways that the vegetable might legally be modified, in order to permit more accurate tosses…
…there are still no universally accepted means to achieve reliable accuracy. Distance, often, is the most crucial factor. It can be quite difficult to keep a rolling rutabaga from either rocketing off into next county…
….or falling woefully short of its goal.
Because the ‘baga I use tends to skid and thud rather than rolling smoothly*, and because of its unusual size and weight, I can give it a full-bodied hurl without fear of it going past its target. Moreover, I am throwing with a focus and determination borne of last year’s disappointments. My toss in the initial bracket goes well, and I qualify for the final round.
This is the competition I must face for the Gold. While some of the other curlers may appear more formidable, it is 10-year-old James, participating in his first curl ever, who is to give me my stiffest challenge. That’s him on the right, in the blue shirt.
My curl starts out promisingly…
….and as I watch my ‘baga tumble toward the traffic cone and skid to a halt, I can feel with a rising anticipation that this may be what I had barely dared hope for. The curl of a lifetime.
Awestruck and disbelieving, Tournament Officials take a measurement for the record books.
Undaunted by the enormity of the task he now faces, and carrying with him the supreme confidence of youth, James tosses his tuber…
….and sends it heading straight for the target!
The crowd watches transfixed as James’ ‘baga hits the cone, and rolls crazily to one side.
While I retain the gold-medal position, James’ throw gives him a second-place finish in the official standings….
…and the first place in not just his mother’s heart, but everyone else’s as well.
We savor our moment on the victory platform. James, too, will be freezing his rutabaga for use in next year’s curl.
Thanks to everyone who makes The International Rutabaga Curl a huge success each year, and truly the premiere sporting event of its kind. And a very special thanks to Jerry Feist for his wonderful photography. My report on the 2009 curl, again featuring much of Jerry’s work, is also available on this blog: www.everydayispoetry.com
Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.
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