Jim Meinhold hasn't picked up the stick just yet.
Reminding himself that "70 is the new 40," the president of the Schenectady Curling Club is still an avid curler, and he'd like to see more people get involved, even those in their 50s and older. And as for the "stick," a curling tool to aid those with bad knees or an ailing back, he hasn't opted for that kind of help, just yet.
"It's not necessarily for older people, it's for anybody who might have bad knees or a bad back or some other kind of physical issue," Meinhold said. "For some people who might be dealing with an injury, it helps them keep on playing while they're recuperating."
The Schenectady Curling Club, now 110 years old, is looking for new curlers, and the group will hold two open houses on Feb. 23 (6-9 p.m.) and Feb. 24 (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) as the Olympic curling competition draws to a close in South Korea. During the Olympics is a great time to attract new people to the game, according to Meinhold, and how unfamiliar one might be with the sport, or how old they are, shouldn't disqualify anyone.
"The beauty of this sport is that you can remain quite competitive for quite a while, and if you know very little about the sport, you can still go through two 'learn to curl' sessions and quickly get to the point where you at least feel comfortable on the ice," said Meinhold. "You learn to slide on your foot and maintain your balance, and the great majority of people, after two sessions, can get to the point where they're making shots. You can get this sense that you might be able to play on a team and not drag them down. You can reach a pretty good level of play rather quickly."
And then there's another level beyond getting comfortable on the ice with your teammates.
"You can get good, and then there's really good," said Meinhold. "Getting really good takes a couple of years, and they're some people who do it quicker than others."
Curling's origins go back nearly 500 years when it was played on the frozen lochs and marshes of Scotland. Scottish immigrants brought the game to Colonial America in the 1750s and in the Capital Region there were five clubs in the Albany area and four more in Troy as early as the 1860s. An Albany club officially formed back in the 1870s but disbanded before the turn of the century.
In Schenectady, a curling club was formed in 1907 at the Mohawk Golf Club, and the group hosted its first bonspiel the following year as an official member of the Grand National Curling Club. In 1923, a fire at the Mohawk Golf Club destroyed the curling shed, and in an effort to avoid suspending its season, the Schenectady Curling Club quickly found a new home in the Stockade neighborhood.
In 1946, the club purchased some land at its current site on Balltown Road, and in 1951 the building was dedicated, complete with four sheets of ice, superior ice-making equipment and a warm room. The "warm room' has been enlarged to a comfortable viewing area complete with tables, locker rooms, a kitchen and a bar.
"We have the capacity to double our membership before we start creating traffic jams," said Meinhold. "Our open houses always attract people, especially during the Olympics. We had hundreds of people show up during the last Olympics just to check us out. Hopefully that will happen again, and we'll be able to keep some of them interested and have them join the club."
If you're new to the sport and wondering whether you should use the stick or not to launch the 42-pound stone down the ice, Meinhold has some advice.
"If getting down into a crouch and a launch position is a probelm for you, then the stick could be for you," he said. "There are people, who don't use the stick, who do feel it gives people an advantage, but I haven't seen a really good player who uses it unless they have some sort of physical issue. I guess if you want to send the stone directly at the target, the stick is an advantage. But nobody that I know, who is fully capable of the traditional delivery of the launch, uses the stick."
A Connecticut native, Meinhold came to the area five years ago.
"I've curled for more than 25 years," said Meinhold. "I played lacrosse and hockey in college and other sports, and I would have bet you $100 to a dime that I wouldn't have been interested in curling. But I got hooked immediately. It's a game that's 50 percent skill and 50 percent strategy. It's also a great social sport."