Cedar Rapids Curling club looks to expand, dreams of building center

'It takes years to master, but it's something anyone can try'

Cedar Rapids Curling Club members Doug Cox (left), Drew Powell (center) and Andrea Flemming (right) sweep the ice in front of a stone at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena on Feb. 14, 2017. All are members of the club’s open league and play on Tuesday nights at the ice arena. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Curling Club members Doug Cox (left), Drew Powell (center) and Andrea Flemming (right) sweep the ice in front of a stone at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena on Feb. 14, 2017. All are members of the club’s open league and play on Tuesday nights at the ice arena. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)

If “chess on ice” sounds like an intriguing concept, curling may be for you.

“It’s a very strategic game,” said Lon Peper, founder and current president of the Cedar Rapids Curling club.

“There’s a finesse to it,” he continued. “It’s a difficult sport to master, but easy to get started.”

You might even “catch the bug” like he and the other 51 club members have — and they’re always looking for more members, he said.

In fact, Peper hopes to at least double their size and eventually build a curling center in Cedar Rapids, which he said has been his goal since he started the club nearly four years ago.

As of now, the club has limited access to the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena — which also caters to hockey and figure skating — and therefore practices only on Tuesday nights. Limiting practice to one week night has been a challenge for some members as well as those considering joining, Peper said, but a curling center would give them the opportunity to curl any day of the week.

“It’s hard to reach everybody,” he said. “We need the seven day availability.”

Before Peper could even consider launching that dream, though, the club would need to expand, he said, but “a lot of people don’t want to just jump into the sport,” which is why the club offers $10 learn to curl events (free for students with an ID) and $75 five week instructional sessions throughout their September through May season. The next five week session starts on Feb. 28, and Peper said there’s still space available.

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“You don’t have to have any curling experience,” Peper assured. “We teach you from day one.”

Weekly lessons include hands-on instruction on technique and safety as well as game play alongside the rest of the league. All necessary equipment is provided by the club, but participants are advised to bring athletic shoes and to dress in layers — the ice arena is around 40 degrees, but you’ll warm up once you start playing, Peper said.

“You walk or run about two miles in the course of a game,” said Kari Kozak, a curling instructor with the league who’s been curling for 10 years.

In addition to being a good workout, Kozak said she likes the sport because “it’s a sport for all.”

“There’s a lot of intricacies and it takes years to master, but it’s something anyone can try,” she said. “It’s supposed to be social and fun. ... Our hope is to just get you on the ice so you can try it.”

“You don’t have to be in great shape and it’s really adaptable,” Peper added.

Whether you’re young or old, in a wheelchair, deaf or even if you just have bad knees, you can curl, he said.

The club’s youngest member, Lilly — a 10-year-old that weighs about as much as the curling stone she’s pushing — has been curling for just a few weeks and is already hooked, even if it was her dad that “forced her to come,” she said.

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Meanwhile, 62-year-old member Bill Mitchell, of Iowa City, said he’s wanted to curl his whole life but hadn’t found the chance until the league started in Cedar Rapids. Beyond the “mental and physical challenge” of the sport, Mitchell said what he enjoys most is all of the interesting people he’s met.

“Curlers are the nicest people,” he said.

Similarly, Mary Keane, who joined the team a year and a half ago, said she comes to “curl with her curlfriends.”

“If you like socializing with people, it’s a good sport,” Peper said. “We always start and end with a handshake and complement each other if we make a great shot. It’s competitive, but civil.”

Membership is $100 for the year for adults, or $75 for 21 and under, which includes membership not only to the Cedar Rapids Curling Club, but also to the Unites States Curling Association and United States Women’s Curling Association as well as insurance coverage, off-ice club activities and discounts on regular on-ice activities. Joining a league is an additional fee.

Learn to curl:

• What: Cedar Rapids Curling Club five week instructional league

• When: Feb. 28 through March 28

• Cost: $75

• Details: Learn a different part of the sport and play a short game each Tuesday alongside the league. Lessons are generally two hours.

• What: Learn to curl events

• When: September, before fall league

• Cost: $10, or free to students with ID

• Details: Although the specific date has not yet been set, the club intends to hold a learn to curl event before the fall league starts in September. These events are a brief introduction and lesson on curling that generally last 30 to 45 minutes.

l Comments: (319) 398-8364; elizabeth.zabel@thegazette.com

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