Russ Howard [Download
Russ Howard, by Jeffrey Reed
As Published by FOREVER YOUNG April 2006
Note: This story has captured the Silver medal at the 2007 National Mature Media
When Canadian Curling Association hall of famer Russ Howard competed as part of Team Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics, he proved that turning 50 really is the beginning of the golden years.
A two-time world curling champion, and already Canada’s most accomplished curler in history, Howard had nothing to prove to anyone familiar with the sport – except himself. A fierce, focused competitor, Howard was the glue that held together Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue rink en route to Olympic gold in Italy. The senior member of the young squad, Howard skipped and threw the second stone for Team Canada who claimed the first-ever Olympic gold medal in curling for their country.
In fact, that medal was also the first gold for Canada in curling at the Winter Olympics since Saskatchewan’s Sandra Schmirler won gold in Nagano in 1998 – the year curling returned as a full Olympic medal sport.
It was a special 50th birthday party for Howard when Team Canada claimed a critical 9-1 win over New Zealand in the town of Pinerolo. After the win, Howard said, “If you had told me I would get this gift for my 50th, to be here on a curling sheet for Canada at the Winter Olympics – simply fantastic!”
“It was a great day,” Howard said of the huge win on the curling sheet, and the off-ice personal milestone. “Brad (Gushue, 25-year-old skip of the Newfoundland rink) went out and got a really nice cake, and all the families and support staff got together. It was really special, especially being together like that in a foreign country.”
But thanks to Howard, the success of the Gushue rink – including lead Jamie Korab, second Mike Adam, third Mark Nichols and coach Tobias McDonald – stems from two summer gatherings in Moncton, New Brunswick. Howard’s Beausejour Curling Club offered some rare summer ice, and Team Gushue flew to Howard’s home for some team bonding.
“The boys were dedicated enough to jump on an airplane twice to come all the way here and throw rocks,” explains Howard. “That tells you a lot about their commitment level. I really tried during those two weekends to bond with the boys, as opposed to being a babysitter, or the old man, or the guy who is trying to give advice all the time to the young guys. Kids don’t want advice,” laughs Howard, “they just want to curl and have fun. And when I really thought about it, that’s all I wanted, too.”
After some curling, some barbecues, and as Howard says, “A couple of beers and telling a few lies,” Team Gushue was ready to take on their Olympic competition. And Howard was a key member of that gold medal team, both on and off the ice.
“I think you could talk to any of those guys, to a man, and they would feel like I am just one of the boys. The secret was instead of them saying, ‘Oh my God, Russ Howard is skipping,’ they just said, ‘There’s Rusty out there curling,’” Howard says.
Born in Midland, Ontario, Howard has been curling since age 11. When he wasn’t curling, he would sit around the kitchen table talking about the game with his father, Bill, who managed and made the ice at the local curling club.
“I’ve always supported the game as much as I could,” says Howard, whose record speaks for itself. Voted Curler of the Century by Sweep Magazine, Howard is the creator of the “Moncton Rule,” now known as the free guard zone rule.
Howard owns a record 107 Brier victories. Working as a golf professional at Midland’s Brooklea Golf & Country Club, he won the Ontario Curling title in 1980, ‘86-87, ‘89, and 1991-94. In 1998, he moved his family to New Brunswick and took the job as director of golf at the Royal Oaks Estates and Golf Club. Howard promptly won that province’s curling title in 1999-2000, and 2002-04. He competed with his wife, Wendy, at two Canadian Mixed Championships, representing New Brunswick in 2000 and 2001.
In 1987 and ‘93, Howard’s rink won the Brier and World Championship. Then came Olympic gold. When Team Gushue qualified for the Games, Howard said, “I tell you, I could swim to Italy right now!”
Howard is the second-oldest person to win an Olympic gold medal. Oscar Swahn of Sweden captured gold in shooting at the 1912 Games when he was 64.
With Howard’s age came wisdom at the Olympics, where Jim Waite, who acted as coach of Team Canada’s men’s curling team, called Howard the perfect man for the job.
“He gave the kids confidence,” said Waite of St. Thomas, Ontario. “Russ is the guy who helped with the rocks so that we hand-picked a perfect set for the semifinal and final. He gave the boys what they needed in terms of experience.”
Today, Howard passes on his knowledge to his son, Steven, 21, who now plays second on his father’s Moncton men’s team, and to his daughter, Ashley, 16, second for the New Brunswick junior women’s team skipped by Mary Jane McGuire.
Russ and Wendy now operate Team Howard, successful licensed real estate agents with Re/Max Quality Real Estate. The Howard family home rests off the second fairway of the Royal Oaks club, but Russ says, “I don’t golf as much as I like, because real estate is just booming here in Moncton.”
Howard will curl with the Gushue Rink at a handful of events this year, and says he would “love to curl with my son at the Brier next year.”
For Russ Howard, life really does begin at 50.