WINDSOR, N.S. - Shelley Barker has one of those infectious personalities — her smile, laugh and general persona invoke someone that is welcoming and a fast friend.
And her teammates agree.
For Barker, the sport of curling isn’t just something she does for the competitive thrill, or the physical and mental exercise, though that is part of it; it’s also helped her integrate into new communities and lay down roots.
“I was born and raised in Advocate Harbour, which is a small fishing village near Parrsboro,” Barker said while inside the Windsor Curling Club. “I went to Acadia University to school and gained employment with the Royal Bank, which has taken me different places across Nova Scotia — Bridgewater, Barrington Passage and finally (I) ended up here in Windsor, my favourite place.”
Barker has lived in the Windsor area since 2009.
“I love Windsor, I love the Valley, I found it really easy to meet people and I think curling was a big part of that,” she said.
She first started curling at the age of 23.
“I was a late starter, and I started when I took my first job out of university as a way to meet people,” she said. “I moved to a community where I knew no one, Bridgewater, and someone suggested curling as a way to meet people, and they had a six-week clinic at the club. I signed up and away I went. I’ve been curling ever since.”
Barker’s parents had always been active curlers, so it was only natural.
“I was never into the sport before that. I was always in team sports like basketball and soccer,” she said. “When you’re done school and get out of that you’re looking for something to take up to fill the void.”
Curling fit the bill, she adds.
“Curling was perfect. It was social, any age group could participate and take up the sport, and it’s not an expensive sport to get into,” she said.
“I loved curling, so I did it as much as I possibly could when I was in Bridgewater and when I moved down to Barrington Passage. But it was always recreationally. I never really had a chance to go out and practice or have anybody sit down and teach me.”
The competitive side
Her first big chance to go to the next level was when she arrived in Windsor, where her husband was a competitive curler.
“He taught me some technique, showed me how it’s done at the competitive level,” she said.
In 2010, she decided to get a team together from the Windsor Curling Club and tried out her skillset on the competitive level, entering the newly-formed Dominion Curling Championship.
They won the provincial tournament and went to the nationals in P.E.I., where they placed third in the country.
“That was my first foray into more competitive curling and it was amazing,” she said. “I was a little bit numb.”
Following that, and wanting another taste of the competitive scene, Barker joined a competitive women’s league as lead in 2011 and has been curling competitively ever since.
In 2014, her team won the intermediate women’s provincials and, in 2015, her team won the provincial mixed title and the right to go to Toronto for the mixed nationals.
“It’s been really fun,” she said. “Not a lot of people get all of those opportunities.”
Her competitive women’s team is based out of Halifax, so she travels back and forth to the city for practises, but for her, it’s worth it.
“I’ve been travelling back and forth every week for about five years now, as well as being a member of the Windsor Curling Club,” she said. “But it’s great, I curl several times a week and I love it.”
She’s got her sights set on other upcoming competitive tournaments as well, including a number of different women’s and mixed teams this year and beyond.
Barker said one of her strengths on the ice is her sweeping ability, and she focuses on that with the positions she plays.
“I’m there to cheerlead and to sweep, to make sure everybody makes their shots,” she said. “You have to be physically in shape to be able to do that well.”
She says she’s continuing to work on her technique, to make sure she has the basics down pat.
“You always want to become more consistent in your shot making, so I’m continuing to work on that,” she said.
At the end of the day, Barker said the sport has brought her a lot of joy – not just the thrill of competition, but in the bonds she’s made with her fellow players on the ice.
Barker and her former teammate Courtney Buchanan became close friends at the Windsor Curling Club out on the ice, and they’ve stayed close ever since.
“We met when I was still curling out of Windsor at the club,” Buchanan said. “I was looking to put together a team to enter the provincials and potentially the national tournament. I had grown up around her husband Rich, and he had suggested ‘what about curling with Shelley?’ and I thought ‘well for sure.’ We just started throwing together, practising together and we just hit it off right away.”
That year, she said, they ended up doing a lot of curling and travelling as they advanced to nationals in P.E.I. the following fall.
“It was a really great experience,” she said.
“What really lead me to build that bond with Shelley is that she’s so motivated to do well. You know you can never sit back on your heels, you just always want to work because she’s always ready to work. She’s extremely honest, which I need in my life because I can be a bit stubborn. She snaps you back to reality.”
Buchanan gets a little choked up talking about their relationship.
“She’s just such a genuine person, she has such a giving personality,” she said. “She’s just such a warm person, with a great sense of humour and accepts everybody for who they are. She’s so determined to do well in all aspects of her life.”
Buchanan is originally from the Windsor area, but now lives in New Glasgow with her family.
“I think she is a really strong curler. I’ve tried to get her to play other positions for fun, but she won’t do it – she loves her position as lead. She truly, truly loves that position and is such a strong sweeper,” Buchanan said.
“I just think that we all need a Shelley in our lives,” she added with a laugh.