By Canwest News Service – Allen Cameron

Stefanie Lawton and her sister, Marliese Kasner, hadn’t thrown a competitive curling rock since Oct. 1.

That was the day of a funeral for their mother, Linda Miller, who died five days earlier at the age of 58 after a 10-month battle with a brain tumour.

But if there were mixed feelings when Lawton, Kasner, and their Saskatoon-based teammates second Sherri Singler and lead Lana Vey stepped on the ice last Friday at the Calgary Curling Club for their first game in the Grand Slam Trail Appliances Women’s Curling Classic, they were erased by one thought.

It’s exactly what their mom would have wanted.

“It’s only been a few weeks, and Marliese and I knew that our mom is in a better place now, and she’s going to be with us and she’s going to be watching us, and knowing that gives us some comfort,” said Lawton on Wednesday.

“I know she went through a very tough time this past year, as all of us did, and it was just nice to get back on the ice, where she loved to watch us, and to be able to play the game that she taught us, it was a good feeling. Obviously, there was a little bit of emotion, but Marliese and I, we know this is what we love to do, and it’s where we want to be.”

The Lawton team, one of the four that has already qualified for the December Tim Hortons Olympic Trials in Edmonton, fought its way to the eight-team playoff round in Calgary, losing a quarter-final matchup on Monday to Winnipeg’s Kerri Flett.

Lawton and Kasner had been playing with a heavy heart since the original diagnosis last January. Through it all, they still managed to win their second Saskatchewan women’s championship, and went on to finish fourth at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Victoria.

And while their mom wasn’t able to watch the events in person as she always tried to do, the sisters were inspired by the woman who, alongside their father and longtime coach Bob, taught them how to curl growing up in Shellbrook, where she also co-ordinated the local junior curling program.

“Definitely, she was an inspiration,” said Lawton. “She always has been a fighter, and she was the kind of woman who was always active, always going, and she’d never take a break. Through these 10 months, it was like she was thinking of everybody else, and she was fighting for herself and for her family. It’s inspiring that she was able to do that, and we hope that we can have the strength that she has had in her life.”

Lawton and Kasner also drew strength not only from the unwavering support of their rivals, but also from their teammates, Singler, Vey, alternate Beth Iskiw and coach Brian McCusker.

“They definitely have been so supportive and so understanding of what was going on,” said Lawton. “People say that you never really know what someone else is going through until you’ve been through it yourself. They haven’t been through something quite the way we have, but at the same time, they were so supportive, and we’re just very grateful. They’ve been great friends, they’ve been able to make us laugh and help us enjoy ourselves when we’ve been on the road. It’s a great team, and we’ve become closer together because of this.”

Miller will continue to be an inspiration as the Lawton foursome completes its final few weeks of tuning up for the trials, hoping to improve on the third-place finish it put together four years ago in Halifax.

“I feel like our team is coming together, and from here on in, we just want to keep on building until December,” said Lawton. “I think our game is coming along quite nicely, and we’re shooting well. It’s just a matter of tweaking a few things.

“We still do feel her presence, and we know she’ll be there with us and watching when we’re in Edmonton.”

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