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Sudbury and Northwest Territories connect at the Scotties

Many a local curler has a fascinating tale to tell.

Sarah Koltun fits right in.

Yes, the 26 year old native of Whitehorse (Yukon) left Sudbury, earlier this week, to join skip Kerry Galusha and her Northwest Territories teammates in Moose Jaw (SK), site of the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

But given that Koltun is currently attending the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and will be, more or less, calling this region home for the next three years, it's fair to say that her six degrees of separation with the local curling scene have been halved, at the very least.

Throw in the fact that local curling mainstay Amanda Gates will be serving as the coach of the NWT rink at the Scotties, and Koltun finds herself as virtually an adopted Sudburian.

This is just the latest intriguing turn of events for the multi-sport athlete who can blame both her father, a long-time competitive curler, and an older brother, for her current passion for the sport.

"My brother actually started curling a little bit before me, and when I was younger, I just wanted to do whatever he was doing," said the middle of three children (she also has a younger brother), following league play at the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club earlier this week.

By the time she was twelve, Koltun would participate in the Arctic Winter Games, being groomed, along with constant junior sidekick Chelsea Duncan (who is vice with the 2020 Yukon entry at the Scotties) for competition at the 2007 Canada Winter Games, in Whitehorse. That same year, Koltun would attend her first of eight junior nationals.

"We knew that we weren't ready for that, but this was kind of that first step to make sure that the door would still be open in the future," she explained, as a non-entry from the Yukon delegation risked jeopardizing their guaranteed berth at the annual event.

Beyond just the curling comes the whole academic side to her story. Upon graduating high-school, Koltun would leave to study Human Kinetics at Trinity Western University in Langley (B.C.), a pursuit that was interrupted by a year devoted to curling at both the Junior Nationals and the Scotties, and was followed by the acquisition of her Athletic Therapy certification from Mount Royal University in Calgary.

One more year back in Whitehorse, followed by a Masters in Human Kinetics from Waterloo University would eventually lead to Koltun making her way to NOSM, in Sudbury. "I always said that I would never be a doctor," she exclaimed, with a laugh. "My dad is a doctor and I thought that's not the life for me."

"I don't really know what changed. I kind of wanted more of a wider scope of practice versus what I was doing as an athletic therapist."

Still, it seems unlikely that athletics and academia will ever stray too far apart in the life of Sarah Koltun. "I feel like I am trying to tell myself not to go the sport medicine route, because that's the obvious choice, but at the same time, it's hard to deny that this is something that I am very passionate about."

"Either way, I will find a way to keep curling in my life," she added. "A lot of people told me I was crazy, trying to keep curling while I am at medical school, but for me, that's been the only normal thing in my life. To take that away would be doing me a disservice. This is the balance I need in my life."

And for a bit of levity in her life, she need not look a whole lot further than her new coach, or at least the young woman who will don the moniker this week in Saskatchewan. While the resume of Amanda Gates, as a curler, is an impressive one, the fact is that she obtained a number of her coaching levels, alongside her dad, while still in her teens.

A mainstay as an instructor at the summer Amethyst Camps, the long-time lead for Team Horgan/Fleury has also coached junior boys teams, locally, in addition to winning gold as a coach at the International Children's Winter Games in Switzerland.

"This is a much bigger stage, so I am pretty excited," said Gates, who assured us that given the demands of her current gig, she will only be able to check in, from time to time, on the performance of her younger sister, Jennifer, and the remainder of the Krista McCarville Northern Ontario entry at the Scotties.

"I am coming aboard an established, experienced team, so there is a little bit of pressure on me to make sure that I am doing everything that can, when I am there, to make sure that they are set and ready to go, every time they step on the ice."

Tapping into her own experience as a Scotties participant multiple times over, Gates will look to handle much of the administrative detail that can quickly clog what is an already busy week of curling. "And we talked a lot about me bringing a spark, a little bit of energy, that positive influence," Gates admitted.

"I feel that a few of the things that they are depending on me to deliver are very natural things for me."

With Galusha making her 17th appearance at the Scotties this year, Gates knows that her in-game involvement might not differ drastically from the role she would traditionally play with Team Fleury. "I am used to seeing the game from a little further away, as a front-ender," she stated. "It's not going to be much different seeing the game as a coach."

"I feel that I will be able to give the input I have in the past. I always usually have an opinion."

And though her affiliation to the territories might be limited, there is a bit of a kindred spirit that Gates shares with Koltun and the others.

"I like playing for the Northwest Territories, even though that is not where I was born, because I feel like we are still representing the north," said Koltun. "We feel like we have a lot to prove, because we are often overlooked."

Spoken like a proud Sudburian.

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