Jamie Smith knew that she wasn't going to out-run the COVID-19 virus.
But moving away from the hot spot that is the province of Ontario, making the trek to an area where the pandemic numbers are substantially lower, well, that could be a good thing.
In fact, the curling rink of Smith (vice), Isabelle Ladouceur (skip), Brooklyn Fahl (second) and Kelly Middaugh (lead), currently based out of Nova Scotia, were playing their fifth bonspiel of the year as they captured the Bally Haly Cash Spiel in St John's (Newfoundland) last weekend.
"It's almost completely normal out here, with two sweepers and no masks," said Smith, tackling her second year of studies at Laurier University on-line, not unlike the vast majority of Canadian university students, this fall.
"It's actually very chill, which is one of the reasons that we moved. We were afraid that there might not be any curling in Ontario".
Living with Ladouceur, a native of Bedford (N.S.) and fellow Laurier student, Smith has been on the ice with her teammates since early September, much like any other year. "The biggest thing was just that we were more confident, just because we have been practicing more at the point," stated the Sudbury curler.
"You're a lot more sure of how you are going to play, but also how your teammates are going to play, just because you know them a lot better." That additional feeling of comfort is critical for a team that comes together for the first time in 2020-2021, though Team Ladouceur, minus Smith, also curled together last year.
In that sense, the pride of northern Ontario and gold medal winner with Team Croisier at the 2018 U18 Canadian Curling Championship appreciates the value of any extra practice. "I think it is something that is individual, in majority, in the sense that you can practice the majority of your skills individually," she said.
"But I do think that team practices are essential, in part because it gives it a real game feeling, versus when you are just out there on your own."
Whatever the workouts, it worked wonders for Ladouceur, Smith, Fahl and Middaugh, who reeled off five consecutive victories, beating Heather Strong (8-6), Erica Curtis (8-0), Wendy Dunne (8-6), Mackenzie Mitchell (7-2) and Cailey Locke (8-1), before besting Mitchell for a second time in the final, this one a much closer affair (5-4).
"We had our ups and downs, but that's pretty normal," said Smith. "I thought that we controlled almost every game, and most parts of every game. There was never a point when I felt that we couldn't win, if we played our best."
While acclimatizing herself to the entire team is key, for Smith, the connection between vice and skip is a particularly critical one in this sport.
"As the third, it's my job to make sure that she feels the best that she can possibly feel," noted the talented 19 year-old rock thrower. "Sometimes, that includes agreeing with what the team has decided, even if you don't necessarily agree with it."
"But she (Ladouceur) is definitely somebody who is OK about having a conversation about an idea that is not necessarily hers, which I really like. And other than that, we have a lot of laughs together. It's a really fun time curling with her and the team."