Curlers Go to the Extreme for Training

Craig Savill Talks of the Treacherous Oxfam Trailwalker

One recent weekend, two world champion curlers set out on an exhausting 100 km challenge along one of Ontario’s toughest trails, the Ganaraska. Craig Savill and Brent Laing – who in December will compete for a berth in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games – hiked and ran across wet and hilly trails, over marshland and through plains with grass taller than them.

About 21 hours and 35 minutes later, they and two other curling friends limped across the finish line. Training for the wild Canadian Olympic curling trials, Savill (Ottawa) and Laing (Meaford, Ont.) were also doing it for charity.

The Oxfam Trailwalker is billed as the “world’s greatest and toughest team challenge.” Launched 28 years ago in Hong Kong as an elite military exercise, it is now held all over the world as an intense fundraising event. Laing discovered it in an adventure magazine.

From July 24 to 26, Oxfam Trailwalker debuted in North America along the Ganaraska. Teams of four hiked 100 km of challenging terrain that stretched from the town of Springwater to sparkling Wasaga Beach. Each team had to reach eight checkpoints together and cross the finish line together – within 48 hours. Organizers recommend people only sleep three to four hours at a time. The curlers sat down, at most, for 30 minutes.

“It was a lot harder than I ever anticipated,” Savill said. The 2007 world champion said the team’s goal was to finish in under 24 hours. To this end, he trained hard since April with the help of a local fitness centre, peaking with a four-hour 40 km training run.

Within the first 15 km of the Trailwalker, Savill’s teammate badly injured his ankle. “He was running on his toe the entire race,” Savill said. The Trailwalker proved physically and mentally exhausting, and each team member had to endure “low” points.

“At the last stage, your entire body is hurting,” Savill recalled with more energy than in the immediate days following. “We got pretty quiet in the last couple of stages, just putting one foot forward and not stopping. We (were) going to finish this together.”

How did the Trailwalker benefit his curling? Savill said he is in far better physical shape than he would have been. He was reminded, by overcoming physical challenges in the Trailwalker, how to overcome struggles on the rink, including psychological barriers and the rocks just not sliding your way. And in the Trailwalker, he endured with a team that came together, fought through injuries, readjusted strategies on the fly, and lifted each other.

Just five months away for Savill and Laing are the national Olympic curling trials. They run December 6-13 at Rexall Place in Edmonton. From there, one men’s and one women’s team will advance to Vancouver 2010. A veteran of past trials, Savill said the atmosphere is tense. With a round robin of eight teams, each game is critical. “It is mentally exhausting,” he said.

He predicts the stadium in Edmonton will be buzzing, particularly with three local teams competing. And with so much curling talent across Canada, Savill said:

“The curling trials will be tougher than the Olympics.”

Special end note:
For Oxfam, Savill and Laing’s team has raised just over $10,000. Donations are still welcome all the way until August 31. To do so, visit and search for either of the curler’s names.

Teams Who Have Already Qualified for the Olympic trials (by skip):

Men: Glenn Howard, Kevin Martin, Kevin Koe, Randy Ferbey
Women: Jennifer Jones, Shannon Kleibrink, Cheryl Bernard, Stefanie Lawton