After Narrowly Missing PyeongChang, Matthew Thums Makes His Team USA Debut At The World Wheelchair Curling Championship

By Melissa Zhang | March 06, 2019, 3:41 p.m. (ET)

Matt Thums on the ice at a joint USA-Canada training camp.
Matt Thums began curling in 2012, when he and his wife went to a curling workshop in their hometown. Thums quickly grew hooked on the sport from there. 

Twelve countries are currently competing at the World Wheelchair Curling Championship 2019 for qualification slots towards the next Paralympic Winter Games.

But for Matthew Thums of the United States, taking the ice in Scotland also holds tremendous personal significance.   

Thums is currently making his national and international debuts as one of the five Americans on USA Curling’s national team.

“I was ecstatic when I found out I was named to the final five,” the 42-year-old said, who was paralyzed after falling from a tree stand around 13 years ago. “I've been mentally preparing myself for this moment.”

Thums began wheelchair curling in 2012, when he and his wife attended a Learn to Curl night and joined a local league in their home state of Wisconsin. Thums quickly grew hooked on the sport.

“I love the challenge of knowing that the shot is made or missed all on how much weight I put into the delivery of the rock,” he said. “There are no sweepers to manipulate the path or weight.”

Making rapid progress in his sport, Thums was one slot away from going to the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. He said that missing the mark for the national team has only motivated him to work harder.

“I've worked hard every year, and even harder each year that I wasn't selected, knowing that sooner or later my dedication would pay off,” he said, mentioning a former coach, Tony Colacchio, as a source of support and encouragement when he didn’t make the team.

Thums saw his efforts yield results. He earned a spot on the roster, alongside team skip Steve Emt, David Samsa, Pam Wilson and Meghan Lino.

“Matt has moved through our development system to now be at the pinnacle of his sport,” said U.S. national team coach Rusty Schieber. “He has turned into an all-star on our team and is making a monumental step onto the national team by filling the third role, maybe the hardest role on a curling team.”

The world championship, which continues until March 10, is the first opportunity for nations to earn qualification slots towards the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.

The United States will be going up against tough competition, including Norway, the reigning world champions, and China, the gold-medalists from PyeongChang 2018.

Despite the high level of play in Scotland, Schieber said Thums has adjusted well to the challenge.

“Matt has adapted to the world caliber play and the world championship like few athletes,” Schieber said. “His shot percentages currently lead the team. The transition has been seamless – I cannot say how proud I am of Matt and our new national team athletes of their play here in Scotland and of their hard work and dedication to the program.”

Despite missing out on last year’s Winter Games, Thums said his goal is to make it to Beijing 2022. And his current debut at the world championship is the first step to getting there.

“The adjustment has been a whirlwind, to say the least,” Thums said. ““But my time has come now, so I plan on taking full advantage of this opportunity to be the best I can be. I know no other way.”