By Allen Cameron, Calgary Herald

Jim Armstrong’s Paralympic dreams are taking a back-seat these days.

The reigning world wheelchair curling champion from Richmond, B. C., is in the early process of recovering from surgery to repair a seriously torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder.

But that’s just a physical issue. In the real-life department, Armstrong is facing the torment of watching his wife, Carleen, in a fight for her life with cancer.

Her initial diagnosis of breast cancer has since taken on far more serious proportions, said Armstrong.

“She took a bit of a bad turn when we were going to have the first (Paralympic curling) camp in July,” said the six-time Brier participant, whose able-bodied curling career was ended because of a series of knee injuries that left the well-liked dentist in a wheelchair.

“She’s just had a real bad run of it;we found out the last time around that it went from her breast into the bones to the lung to the liver and it’s hit the brain now. We have her at home now. I’ll tell you, she’s a lot tougher than you or I would be. But there’s no answer to this one. She’s our biggest fan, and the biggest fan of the sport, too.”

Carleen has been a vocal supporter of wheelchair curling, and her husband’s bid to be declared eligible for international wheelchair competition; initially, the World Curling Federation balked at Armstrong’s inclusion, but finally relented last October.

Four months later, Armstrong skipped Canada to its first world wheelchair title, claiming gold on the same Vancouver Olympic Centre ice that will host both the Olympic and Paralympic curling competitions next year.

But during the worlds, Armstrong, who was backed up by Darryl Neighbour, Ina Forrest, Chris Sobkowicz and alternate Sonja Gaudet, struggled with pain in both of his shoulders, and decided earlier this summer to get his left shoulder dealt with to give him enough rehab time before the Paralympics, and to wait until afterwards to get his right shoulder (and his throwing arm) repaired.

Tests revealed tears in both shoulders, likely the result of being one of the best corn-broom sweepers the game has ever known.

“I had no idea; quite honestly, I think it’s been with me for years. You just put up with it,” said Armstrong. “It won’t keep me out, but it’s a long rehab, three to six months.”

And it’s not an easy rehab, either, said Armstrong, who wasn’t prepared for the amount of pain he’d feel weeks after the surgery.

“I’ve had knees replaced, and with them, you get through the initial surgery, bite your lip and say, ‘OK, here we go,’and bang right through it. And once you’re through it, you’re done to whatever level you’re going to be,” he said. “But this, geez . . . I just went for my first physio on Friday and you can’t even move your arm by yourself. It’s all passive movement, so it’s frustrating. You have to be careful with it or else you re-tear it. Man, I’ve been through lots of rehabs after surgery, and I’ve never experienced something like this.”

The Canadian Paralympic team will feature Armstrong, Neighbour, Forrest and Gaudet, with one spot still to be decided before the Games. Armstrong expects to be back on the ice later this month to begin throwing, but training sessions undoubtedly will take a back seat to his wife’s struggles.


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