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Steve Emt Leads U.S. Wheelchair Curling Team Into Worlds And Hopefully Back To Paralympic Games

By Steve Goldberg | Oct. 22, 2021, 12:56 p.m. (ET)

Steve Emt competes in wheelchair curling during the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 13, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

 

Eight years ago, Steve Emt escaped for a weekend to Cape Cod, the legendary peninsula on the southwest corner of Massachusetts, with no inkling that his life was about to change forever.

“As I was pushing up the hill to go get something to eat, a man came around the corner and asked me if I was local,” said the 51-year-old Emt, who lives in Hebron, Connecticut. “I told him I was from Connecticut and then questioned him why he asked me that. He said, ‘I train with the Paralympic curling team here on the Cape and I saw you pushing up the hill and with your build, I can make you into a Paralympian in a year.’” 

Emt’s reply was quick and simple. 

“Where do I sign up?”

“That man’s name is Tony Colacchio,” Emt said. “He was my first coach and truly turned me onto the sport and gave me the fire that I still have today. He stalked me that day. So, I got stalked into the sport of curling.”

Colacchio was correct about turning Emt into a Paralympian, it just took a little longer than expected, though Emt was on the national team very quickly.

“I worked my tail off for 3-4 months and then made Team USA,” said Emt. “I’ve been on the team since. I’m blessed and honored to be able to travel the world and compete for the USA.”

Emt competed at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 and in four World Wheelchair Curling Championships (2015, 2016, 2017, 2019) which are held every non-Paralympic year. The high point for the U.S. team in the world championships was a third-place finish in 2008.

The Americans missed out on the 2020 tournament but Emt and his teammates, Matt Thums (Weston, Wisconsin), Dave Samsa (Green Bay, Wisconsin), Oyuna Uranchimeg (Burnsville, Minnesota), and Pam Wilson (Denver, Colorado) fought their way back by winning the 2021 World Wheelchair-B Curling Championship in Lohja, Finland, last April. 

“We have been working extremely hard the last year and a half to get back to this world championship level. We competed in the world B championship in April and needed to come in the top three to be invited to this year’s world championship in Beijing.  We ended up winning the gold medal, which was the first gold medal a wheelchair curling team from the United States has ever won.”

The World Wheelchair Curling Championship 2021 (https://worldcurling.org/events/wwhcc2021/) runs Oct. 23-30. Team USA will open play on Day 1 against Canada, followed by round-robin matches against all other teams in the 12-team tournament: Norway, the Russian Curling Federation (RCF), South Korea, Italy, Switzerland, China, Sweden, Latvia, Slovakia and Scotland.

Steve Emt competes in wheelchair curling during the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 13, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

 

The tournament is being held at a building made famous as the “Water Cube” with its iconic design and entertaining light shows during the 2008 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games. Officially called the Beijing National Aquatic Center, the building has been transformed into the “Ice Cube” for 2022 and will host curling for both the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The Americans have competed in all four competitions since curling was introduced at the 2006 Torino Games with finishes of eighth, fourth, fifth, and 12th. 

Canada has set the standard with three gold and one bronze medal in those four Games but even the mighty have fallen, so close is the margin between success and defeat in this game. A year after winning bronze in PyeongChang, Canada too was relegated to the B-championship in 2019 where they finished second. They haven’t won a world title since 2013.

In curling, the captain is called the skip. The tactical leader on the ice. But there’s also the leadership that’s necessary off the sheet. Emt is the vice-skip for the Americans. 

“My role, as the most experienced on the team, is to be the leader on and off the ice. I’m usually the spokesperson for the team. Trying to keep everyone positive no matter how we are doing.”

Emt, the only Paralympic veteran on this world championship squad, feels that a much-improved team chemistry is the difference now.

“When I came back from PyeongChang after the 2018 Paralympics, friends who watched the game noticed that we were not a very good team. Individually we all did well, but as a team we just didn’t have it. (What) we have now is different. There’s a different feeling, the better mojo, whether we win or lose.”

“We have spent a lot of time off the ice through virtual meetings to prepare for when the ice was open after the pandemic hit. The five of us have been together for about two years now so the trust is there. In the past, there was a lot of turnover with players from year to year and team camaraderie was difficult to build. We have all completely dedicated ourselves to the team and to this program.”

“As a team, we are always in contact with each other whether it’s phone calls, text messages, virtual meetings. We are doing everything in our power to be prepared to compete in Beijing. Our No. 1 goal going in is to earn enough points to qualify for the Paralympic Games next March in Beijing.”

He says that can happen by finishing in the top seven or ahead of Italy in the standings. 

“We could be the best in the world. If we keep doing what we’re doing and staying the same course with a commitment to each other and to the program, we can be the best team in the world.”

All that positivity came from that chance meeting on a hill in Cape Cod eight years ago.

“This sport has changed my life. It requires patience, a strong mental attitude, and a very short memory. It’s one on one but also five on five. It’s an individual sport as well as a team sport. There’s angles and circles … I taught math for 20 years, so I love it. You can never master this sport; it’s always a challenge. Everything I love in life is in this sport!”

Steve Goldberg

The chief press officer for the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games, Steve Goldberg covered every summer Paralympic Games from Sydney 2000 through Rio 2016 for various newspapers, magazines and online media. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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