Tammy's Way


June 28, 2013
by Kim Griffiths

This article was first published in the June 2013 PXE International eNewsletter.

Tammy Gibson poses with her trophy for most points scored during CCB's 2013 curling competition.


Learn how Tammy Gibson, a Kingston, Ontario resident, became involved with her low-vision curling team. As a newcomer to the sport in 2012, Tammy participated and won the most points for her team in this past season’s Canadian Council for the Blind (CCB) curling bonspiel. Read about her inspiring story and how this sport, which requires balance, feel and strategy, can be played at any age as well as with a vision disability.

My name is Kim Griffiths, a 40-something year old woman who inherited Pseudoxanthoma Elasticum (PXE). Like many people affected by PXE, I am anxious for a treatment to get this disorder under control. In addition to donating funds for medical research, I recently reached out to PXE International to ask if I could be a volunteer. I find that when I help this community, I end up feeling more connected to others. My first volunteer assignment was to write an article for PXE International’s newsletter. 

I was asked to speak with Tammy Gibson from Kingston, Ontario, Canada about her recent curling accomplishment. I must point out that I knew very little about this sport and needed to do some serious research.

Here’s my curling knowledge. 

     - It’s a sport played on ice
     - There are brooms involved

I gave Tammy a call and she generously offered her story about curling. At first, I found it wasn’t easy to follow her journey because I didn’t know enough about how this game was played. I did some research to answer the question: What is curling? Here is a brief synopsis of the sport, which will be followed by my interview of Tammy.

Curling dates back to the 16th century in Scotland where the game was primarily played on frozen lakes and marshes. Scottish immigrants brought the sport to North America in the 18th century. By the mid 19th century, curling clubs flourished. Today there are over 200 curling clubs in Canada and 170 clubs in the USA, which shocked me because I thought this was primarily a sport that was played in Canada.  Who knew?

Curling is a strategic sport that is a played on sheet of ice.  Curling is also a sport in the Winter Olympic Games! The two-hour game focuses on precision, strategy, and vigorous actions. It is often described as playing chess on ice. The non-aggressive game requires good sportsmanship and orderly conduct.

Children can start at age 6 and the oldest known person still playing is 98. Because this sport is all about feel and touch, there is no advantage to being a man or a woman, young or old.

Tammy delivers a stone down the curling field.

The objective of the game is to earn points by getting more same colored stones closest to the target than your opponent. The target in curling is called the “house.” The house looks like a dartboard painted on the ice with a bulls-eye and rings around it. The center of the target is called a button and it is typically white. There are three graduated concentric rings around the button. The first concentric circle is blue, the next larger circle enveloping the button and the blue ring is white, and the outer ring of this target is red. Only stones that reach the house are eligible for scoring.

Each team is comprised of four players. Throughout the game each player shoots two rocks each. Each team alternates turns. The rock is made from granite and weighs roughly 40 pounds. The game is final after each team completes 8 ‘ends’ of the court. All 16 rocks need to be delivered down the court at each end. The four members of a team are called:

  1. The ‘lead’ delivers his/her stones first
  2. The ‘second’ is the second
  3. The ‘third’ is also known as ’vice’
  4. The ‘fourth’ player is called the ‘skip’ and delivers the last two stones

To deliver a stone, the player assumes a crouched, outstretched position like a lunge. The player places his/her back foot into a device called a ‘hack.’ The slider foot is in front of you. The player grips the stone and glides forward while maintaining his/her balance in the lunge position. The player puts a slight turn on the handle of the stone making it turn or ‘curl’ as it travels down the ice. A 10 o’clock position on the stone will create an in turn, and a 2 o’clock position will create an out turn. The goal is to get the stone to rest as close to the center button of the house as possible. A player can also direct his/her stone strategically so that it hits their opponent’s stone, called a ‘take out.’

After the delivery of the stone, the player and the sweeper on the team will brush the ice clean in front of the stone to clear the path of any debris. This is a critical aspect of the sport as it can keep the momentum of the stone going to reach the house. The most physical aspect of the sport is the sweeping.

There is a lot of exercise in curling. The benefits of this cardio workout include balance, coordination, flexibility and stamina.

Now on to the interview with Tammy!

I got on the phone with Tammy and we quickly became friends. We are about the same age with similar vision loss. She is a very open and giving person – I sensed this from our very first conversation. Tammy is a divorced mother of two young women, aged 18 and 19. I admire Tammy. She raised these girls from the time they were 7 and 8 years old with a vision impairment.

Kim:  What made you get interested in curling?

Tammy:  Locally I have a support association called the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). They informed me that the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), which looks after sport related events, had an opening on their curling team. The CCB was given a grant to keep curling alive for low vision people. Last year they asked me if I would like to participate on the low vision curling team. I have always been active and enjoyed physical activity. I joined the team and played for the winter season. The sport is only played in the winter.   

Kim:  How were you able to see the house when curling?

Tammy:  I can’t see the end of the rink. I have to depend on the coaches to tell me where to shoot the stone. The coach will either tap on the ice so I know where to direct the stone or the coach will tell me whether I need to spin the stone with an inward or outward turn.

Kim:  What was your most memorable or challenging moment on the curling field?

Tammy:  I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to know how to do it before I got on the ice. I wanted to throw the stone straight but then I realized how hard it was to do that when I can’t see the end of the rink. I learned how much strength I need to use to get the stone across the ice. 

Garrison Curling Club for Special Olympics, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Kim:  What impact has being part of your curling team had on you?

Tammy:  It made me feel that I wasn’t alone. Everyone treated me as an equal. 

Kim:  What is your vision now?

Tammy:  As you know with PXE, the vision generally degenerates over a period of time.  I stopped driving 11 years ago but kept working as an administrative assistant up until just a few months ago.  I’ve had a total of 42 Avastin injections and I continue to receive these monthly.

Kim:  What do you like to do when you’re not curling?

Tammy:  I love gardening. I help friends with their gardens. I was a floral designer for over 17 years. I used to jog a lot but now I run on my treadmill because it’s safer. 

Kim:  How else has the CNIB been of assistance to you?

Tammy:  Coping with mid-life blindness is not something any of us think could happen to us. For people like me who became vision impaired later in life, CNIB has helped me cope with the transition. It’s more difficult, in my opinion, to lose sight when you used to have it because you were never educated as a blind person. You have to learn all new ways to navigate life’s twists and turns.

CNIB taught me how to use the white cane. It’s an extension of your safe area so you have to scope your area. It’s a learning process. Sidewalk definition and stairs are the most difficult to navigate. They helped me find items in the dark through various navigational skills with the white cane while blindfolded. First they taught me in a school then at a mall. They helped me to learn how to use an escalator, the stairs, and the elevator. When I use my white cane, people know that I’m visually impaired which is why people approach me all the time to help me. If I don’t use the white cane, then people will never think that I need help.  

Kim:  Anything you’d like to say to the PXE community?

Tammy:  We all know how hard transition is. It’s hard to swallow your pride but if you don’t you might put yourself in harm’s way. For example, there is construction going on downtown. When the construction workers see me, they immediately run up to me and direct me to a safer route. Low vision becomes all about feeling safe in your environment. 

Kim:  Tammy, thanks so much for sharing your story!

Tammy:  My pleasure.


Helpful Information about the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)

CNIB is a registered charity, passionately providing community-based support, knowledge and a national voice to ensure Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunities to fully participate in life. 

Any Canadian who has experienced a loss of vision, in any community nationwide, can come to CNIB for rehabilitation support – whether you’re an adult or senior, a child or teen; whether you’ve been completely blind all your life or have recently experienced a partial loss of vision.

You don’t have to be legally blind to come to CNIB (in fact, nine out of every 10 people we serve have some degree of sight), and you don’t need a referral of any kind.