By Kevin Mitchell – Vernon Morning Star

Glenn Howard spent his wedding anniversary at the Vernon Curling Club Thursday night. Beat local kid T.J. Perepolkin and then headed upstairs to the lounge to hoist a few beers with his teammates and friends.

Next Wednesday, Howard will be on a golf course somewhere near New Westminster – the same day his daughter, Carly, turns 16 – as he readies for the Royal City cashspiel.

So it goes for one of the world’s best curling skips, making his first appearance in the Twin Anchors Houseboat Curling Classic.

“I’ve been married 21 years today and I’ve been on two family vacations, my honeymoon and we took the kids to Disneyworld,” said Howard. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining because it’s my choice, but at the same token, you’ve gotta sacrifice to do it at this level.”

Vernon club manager Dave Merklinger made some quick calls to bring in Howard when the Lloydminster Cashspiel was scrapped.

“Merk was gracious enough to pull the plug on his team and let us in which is absolutely fantastic,” said Howard, who clinched a spot at the 2009 Olympic Trials (Dec. 6-13 in Edmonton) when he won the 2008 Tylenol Players’ Championship in St. John’s, Nfld., icing Kevin Martin in the final.

Howard hired a personal trainer in the summer, working extra hard on his core and legs to prepare for the biggest year of his career.

“I’m kind of like a kid in a candy store. I’m 47 years old and I’ve never looked more forward to a year than this year. I’ve played in pretty much every Olympic trials and never made it. Watched big brother (Russ) win a gold medal which was absolutely surreal and now we’ve got a good chance. We’ve got the tools, we’ve got the teammates that can do it. The bottom line is we just gotta get hot in December and hopefully we can win it.”

Supported by third Richard Hart and a front end of Brent Laing and Craig Savill, Howard is stoked about the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings at Rexall Place. Eight teams will play for one Vancouver Olympic berth.

“I firmly believe you will not see any better curling ever. If it’s not eight, it’s going to be eight of the top-10 in the country, are gonna to be there. It doesn’t get any better than that. Briers are great and fantastic, and have a whole aura about it, but you’re not gonna get the quality of curling you’re gonna see at the trials this time.”

Howard, who lost to Kelowna’s Bob Ursel in a Friday morning draw, believes 90 per cent of the game at the elite level is mental.

“Mental toughness is the big thing. Physical is not. We can all make the shots. Mentally, it’s the Tiger Woods’ scenario. Tiger is more mentally tough than anybody out there. Whoever can actually put that on the ice for that week is gonna do that. And obviously a little bit of luck and you get hot.”

Intense and well prepared, Howard works as a manager at The Beer Store and made a guest appearance on the CBC comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie on the season 2 episode titled Jihad on Ice. He has a Colgate smile and loves to laugh.

“I actually think the strength of our team is team dynamics, sense of humour, get along very well both on and off (the ice). We do everything as a foursome. We don’t go off and do our own thing. We do everything as a foursome, on and off the ice. We have a hell of a good time. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we have a great time on and off the ice, especially on the ice.

“You have to have a sense of humour. Humour’s everything. All four of us have a good sense of humour, the other three especially. Richie’s just a hoot. He knows if I’m getting stressed, he knows when to crack a joke and the whole stress goes out of my body and I’m having a great time. How great is that? In a special situation, you’re laughing. Nobody does that. We’re very good at that, and it seems to be working.”

Ironically, just as Howard was telling me about his rink’s sense of humour, Merklinger walked in front of us by the TV area couch and flashed his jeans, soaking wet from a drink spill of some sort.

“I don’t have to comment on that, do I?” laughed Howard.

The Midland, Ont.-born Howard can’t play at this level forever, and is concerned about the sport’s future. He says there are superb junior programs everywhere, but the kids often put curling aside to get educated and join the workforce.

“There’s not a big enough carrot to dangle in front of them. They get out of it for 10 years. They get stability in a job, they get a couple weeks holidays and now they get back in the game. You can’t keep that 20- to 30-year-old and that’s the hard part. It’s not like any other sport. If you do really well in a sport, you get drafted, you get a paycheque, you do your thing.

“It’s a phenomenal game and the talent’s there, but they can’t afford to keep playing. It’s a complete juggling act between the curling, the job and the family and I’ve been doing it for 30 years.”

Howard’s dad, Phil, was a huge advocate of curling before he died in 2002. Glenn’s mom, Barbara, is 84 and still watching her boys play.

“We played in the Brier this year and it was the most stressful game of her life. She knew it was going to be fun, but she said she just wanted to see the boys play well. It was tough for mom, but she’s pretty proud.”

Howard’s son Scott, 19, and Carly are both competitive curlers. Glenn’s wife, Judy curls for fun and spends her anniversary texting her hubby.

“It’s a big sacrifice, but they know dad has to do this to try and make the Olympics.”

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