Lauren Rajala has already enjoyed many a memorable experience over the course of a ten year curling career that began at the age of seven.
None is likely to compare to suiting up as a member of the Canadian mixed team that will compete at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne (Switzerland) from January 10th to the 19th (2020).
No surprise, however, that this trip will be shared by the entire Rajala clan.
"Curling was definitely a family background, my whole family curls," noted Rajala, a 17 year-old grade 12 student at Lasalle Secondary School. "I got into it because of my dad. We started curling at the Falconbridge Curling Club because he curled there."
In fact, growing up pretty much right across the street from the club that closed its doors just under a decade ago, Brian Rajala was groomed on curling through much of his youth. And as many folks know, sport is somewhat hereditary in nature.
"I would say that he is a pretty good curler," said Lauren, with a smile. "We played in the mixed doubles league together at the Idylwylde and won all of our games." That chapter of her time on the ice came well after it was apparent that curling would be passed along from one generation of Rajalas to the next.
"On my first competitive team, I was actually the skip, so I guess once I started skipping in games, I realized that there's more to the sport than just throwing the rock down the ice and hoping it gets down there. I really like the thinking process that goes behind curling, the whole knowledge background with the sport, the strategy behind it."
Moving on from her own rink at the Idylwylde, after also spending some time at the Coniston Curling Club, Rajala would eventually join forces with the Bella Croisier rink, a partnership that has produced one of the most memorable runs in Sudbury youth curling history.
"I think once we started playing in events, and I realized that I could take this further, then I wanted to keep going with it," said Rajala, whose younger brother, Brendan (14) is taking part in the Ontario Winter Games qualifier in Thessalon this weekend at the same time as his sister. "I liked the competitiveness of curling."
"Having fun is obviously one of the biggest parts, and I really enjoyed it, but I really wanted to step it up another level."
That was a sentiment that was shared by skip Bella Croisier, vice Jamie Smith, and second Piper Croisier, who really delivered on their wish list, capturing gold at both the Canada Winter Games, as well as the Canadian U18 Curling Championships last year.
"Going into it, our goal was to represent Ontario at the Winter Games, represent Northern Ontario at nationals, let alone winning both of those in the same year," said Rajala. "It was pretty crazy to have that opportunity."
It was also the origin of the international opportunity that Rajala is about to embark upon with teammates Nathan Young (Torbay, NFLD), Emily Deschenes (Greely, ON) and Jaedon Nauert (Winnipeg, MB). With a large number of the curlers who attended both cross-country events (OWG and nationals) submitting applications, Curling Canada would be kept busy, scouting both events extensively.
"I think the first couple of games, I was a little conscious of it, just because it's a little intimidating knowing that people are specifically watching you," said Rajala. "But as the week went on, I just started to focus on my game, knowing that if I focused on my game and played well, that was all that mattered."
"Being the lead, I had to show that I could be really consistent as far as getting the ends set-up, because I think that's one of the most important roles of the lead - that, and sweeping and communication."
Then, it was a matter of waiting for the call. "I was shaking, really excited to be getting that call, because you don't want to just expect it," she said. "I definitely didn't want to get my hopes up, but I was happy with the way that I played at both the Canada Winter Games and nationals."
With a schedule that sees Rajala and her mates facing, in succession, the Russian Federation, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Spain and Estonia in a five day span, the local product is about to became significantly more worldly, in just over a week.
"I've never been to Europe," she said. "My first flight on a plane was to the Canada Winter Games last year. I don't know if we will have a lot of time to sight-see or anything, but taking in some of the other sporting events would be super exciting."******************************************************************************
Hard to say if capturing the NOCA U21 banner would qualify as "super exciting" for either Jacob Horgan or Kira Brunton, given that it was not a new experience for either of them. But having the involvement of new teammates, and the fact that neither Curl Sudbury team cruised to their titles, there was undoubtedly some relief and jubilation when all was said and done in Hearst.
After posting a record of 4-0 in the double round robin preliminary round, Horgan and his team of Scott Mitchell, Mitchell Cortello and Chase Dusessoy would meet Jonathan Vellinga of Kakabeka Falls in the final, an opponent that they had beaten 5-1 and 6-3 in their first two matches.
Holding leads of 5-1 and 6-3 in the gold medal affair, Horgan appeared to have matters well in hand until Vellinga scored two with the hammer in the eighth, added a steal of one in the ninth, forcing the seven-time Northern Ontario representative to salvage one final point in a 7-6 win for the Sudbury crew.
On the women's side, it was a given that it there would be Sudbury representation at nationals, with Team Brunton, Bella Croisier (Idylwylde GCC) and Abby Deschene (Curl Sudbury) all deadlocked at 2-2, forcing a tie-breaker.
Brunton remained alive, thanks to a 5-4 extra-end win over the Croisier contingent, and then bested Team Deschene (Alyssa McVittie, Zoe Vailliere, Emily Brock) 9-4 in the final, punching the ticket for the winning team of Lindsay Dubue, Calissa Daly, Jessica Leonard and Brunton.