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Home from the Bubble: Local Woman Talks Elite Curling Career

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Kate Cameron Crop
Kate Cameron throws a stone at the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary. Courtesy of Kate Cameron

Manitoba has long been a powerhouse in the world of curling, with elite teams cropping up here that go on to compete at the highest level in Canada and the world. In recent years, this has been especially true in the women’s game.

Case in point: at the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, held every February to crown a new national champion, five teams from the keystone province managed to qualify, setting up seemingly one Manitoba vs. Manitoba bout after another.

There is indeed no shortage of locally grown talent.

Kate Cameron, one of those curling stars, has become a familiar face to fans over the last few years. And she may not only be familiar to you from watching the TSN broadcasts; she may also be familiar from just walking down the street or visiting the local grocery store.

That’s because Cameron has settled down very close to home. She and her fiancé have lived in New Bothwell for three years.

“I grew up in Winnipeg, and my fiancé was a miner up in Thompson,” Cameron says of their journey to the rural southeast. “He was born and raised there, and he has a son that lives up there. So I went up to Thompson for about four years or so, but it wasn’t the place for me and he accommodated to move south.”

She says he wasn’t interested in living in a city, which is why they began looking to the communities around the south side of Winnipeg, where they would have plenty of open space and still be close to her family.

In fact, even a community like Niverville was a bit too crowded for her fiancé’s tastes.

“We had no intention of living in such a small community, with very limited resources actually in town,” she adds. “But everything’s kind of expanded, and it seems more so even since we moved here. We’ve had tons of friends relocate to Niverville from up north and from in the city since we’ve been here… So yeah! It works here. We enjoy it.”

Building a Career

Coming back to southern Manitoba also made it easier for Cameron to pursue her professional curling career—a career which has seen some big highlights in the last few years.

In 2017, Cameron threw third rocks for skip Michelle Englot, alongside teammates Leslie Wilson-Westcott and Raunora Westcott. The team had a fairy tale season, winning a provincial final to represent Manitoba at the Scotties. That year, they were number one after the round robin with a bye straight to the final.

They lost that final to Rachel Homan out of Ontario and had to settle for a silver medal.

“After losing that final, it was extremely heartbreaking, because we were in a position where we could have won,” she says. “We finished first overall that week, and we were riding an extreme momentum wave. And that was my very first Scotties!”

Cameron played one more season with Team Englot, when due to a quirk in the system they were able to return to the Scotties as Team Canada when Homan’s rink was unable to attend because they were representing Canada at the PyeongChang Olympics.

“After I had played with Michelle and she kind of decided that she wanted to retire from extremely competitive curling, I had to sit down and re-evaluate what I wanted,” Cameron says. “We had chatted on Team Englot about if we wanted to continue, and just not put our all into it anymore, like take a little bit of a step back and still compete and hope we do well… I was only 26, and kind of still in my prime. I hadn’t really hit my max playing capacity, so I was ready to put that next step in and find some teammates who were in the same age range or life situation as me.”

The following season, Cameron was instrumental in forming a new team with skip Allison Flaxey. Flaxey was originally from Manitoba but had been competing in Ontario since 2011. So Kate Cameron and teammate Raunora Westcott joined forces with Flaxey and Taylor McDonald, an import from Alberta.

“We played in Manitoba that year, and unfortunately that didn’t go according to plan,” Cameron says. “We just didn’t have the chemistry with Team Flaxey, and we kind of folded right after that season and had limited success—like, very limited success.”

Team Walker

However, it wasn’t a complete loss. Cameron and Taylor McDonald really enjoyed playing together, and the two of them teamed up to form yet another team, this time with Laura Walker from Edmonton.

“Laura was at the point where she was ready to start a family, and she was willing to step back from the game and focus more on life and playing mixed doubles,” says Cameron. “We told her, ‘We’re totally in for you having a family. We support that. It doesn’t mean you can’t compete and be a top-level athlete still.’ That conversation kind of stuck with her and she realized she didn’t have to choose.”

And that’s how Cameron began playing for Team Walker in Alberta.

Playing for a team in one province while living in another has become an increasingly common phenomenon at the elite level of curling in Canada. In order to maximize their chances for success, players have been crisscrossing the country to form new powerhouse teams. Each team is allowed one import player, someone who lives outside the province.

Although this has led to amazingly talented teams in the last decade or so, Cameron can speak from firsthand experience to say it complicates the process of training and practicing for big events.

“I don’t really know of very many teams where all four players live in the same place anymore,” she says. “Before I had played with Michelle, I was playing with Kristy McDonald and all of us lived in Winnipeg. So we trained together all the time. Every practice was the four of us… I’ve been playing on teams for the last five years that haven’t all resided in the same place, and I didn’t realize at the time how fortunate teams are to live in the same place. Having that in-person practice is something that is extremely overlooked now.”

In early 2020, Team Walker swept to victory at the Alberta provincial playdowns, earning themselves a berth at last year’s Scotties. Although the team missed the playoffs, they were given a second chance when they were invited to return to the national event in 2021.

There was some question about whether the 2021 Scotties would even happen, until a plan was introduced over the winter to hold a series of curling events in Calgary, using a bubble format that would keep players isolated from the general public.

Because most provinces weren’t able to host their own playdowns to determine who would represent them at the Scotties, most of the qualifying teams from 2020 were invited back, including Team Walker.

The Scotties Bubble

And so it was that Kate Cameron made the trip to Calgary in February, to vie for Canada’s top women’s curling prize. It was her fourth trip to the Scotties, and it was totally different than anything she’d experienced before.

“Not a whole bunch other than the actual playing was even remotely the same as to what we would be used to,” she says. “I feel for any Scotties participants who have never gotten the chance to be at a Scotties prior to this year, because so much was taken away from the experience. The crowd, for one, is usually huge. And we were the hometown team, but you would have had no idea. I’ve played against hometown teams and the crowd is such a crucial part and really can amp you up in so many different moments. A big shot will be made a sheet over and the arena explodes. As a team on a different sheet of ice, there’s been times when you had to pause the game because you can’t hear or there’s like some chant going on in the crowd, or someone’s yelling something to you in the middle of a game and it’s funny and you crack a little laugh. So that was really weird, not having a crowd.”

Part and parcel with banning spectators meant that the players didn’t have their families on hand to share the experience.

“Normally most people’s families will come out to the Scotties. For some, it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s just such a social atmosphere for fans to be at. There’s the Patch, where they have live music and dancing and drinks and all those kinds of things every single night… that part was missing. And just being able to go out for with your teammates. It sounds so silly, but we weren’t allowed to eat with our teammates at all, even in our hotel rooms.”

Finally, Cameron mentions the lack of fan engagement between games. At previous Scotties, she looked forward to talking to people, answering questions, and attending autograph-signing sessions, some of which would last 30 to 45 minutes after a game.

“That’s why I feel for the people who were newbies and didn’t get that opportunity, because that really is such a fun part of the Scotties—to be a little celebrity for a week and kind of step away from your normal life and live this fun life.”


Team Walker had a solid run at this year’s event, earning a 5–3 record in the round robin and sneaking into the championship pool. That’s when the team really came alive, winning four straight games against tough opponents to earn themselves a tiebreaker to the playoffs.

In the tiebreaker, Team Walker edged out the Jennifer Jones squad (representing Manitoba) to get to the semifinal, where they ultimately fell to Kerri Einarson. Einarson skipped Team Canada and was defending her 2020 title, which she went on to do.

Coming home to New Bothwell with bronze medal in hand, Cameron had to go into a mandatory two-week isolation period. During that time, she passed the time by watching every game of this year’s Brier. She’s also been following the Canadian mixed doubles championship, where Laura Walker has risen to the playoffs in the midst of a crowded field.

Emotional Rollercoaster

Competing at the highest level of curling in Canada is a grind. The field gets tougher and tougher every year, especially in an Olympic year when teams are gearing up to qualify to represent Canada on the world’s biggest stage.

“The rest of Canada is so superb right now,” Cameron says. “Curling has grown so much, especially in the last few years, and I think all the other top teams are just pushing each other to get better. I think that we’re all kind of learning from each other in that aspect. And the fitness, the mental goals, the nutrition, and everything else leading up to that has become so crucial. It’s not just about the game on the ice that day.”

To compete with the best of the best, Cameron points to the time commitment that’s required, and the resources players need in order to train and develop.

“It can be kind of deflating to be playing against all these high-calibre teams, and having to perform so well,” Cameron reflect. “For instance, at last year’s Scotties we didn’t get the results that we wanted. We didn’t even make the championship round. I think it’s been hard to manage. It’s something I work with, with a mental trainer. You know, at my very first Scotties I walked away with a silver medal, and I thought that was cool. But then every year thereafter until this year I’ve actually decreased my results a little bit. So I think you have to go in and have no expectation, but still have a goal for your team to perform. Every time it’s like, can you do that? Can you set your mind to know that it’s okay if you lose a game, but how do you win the next one? Can you not focus on long-term results but focus one game at a time, or one end at a time? I think those are the teams that are successful right now.”

The Future

Team Walker worked hard for their bronze medals at the Scotties this year, and now they’ve got their eyes trained on the future—particularly, trying to qualify for a chance to represent Canada at next year’s Olympics in Beijing.

“Curling Canada is still planning on putting on the Olympics trials,” Cameron says. “I don’t know for certain, but I can imagine that if they put on the Scotties in a bubble format, if worse came to worst they could probably do that for the Olympic trials as well.”

So far four women’s teams have earned a place in those trials, including Rachel Homan from Ontario and three teams from Manitoba—Kerri Einarson, Jennifer Jones, and Tracy Fleury.

The remaining spots will be determined at the pre-trials. Because of the pandemic and lack of regular season play, Curling Canada is also planning a pre-pre-trials event. Five more teams will be able to make it into the trials, and Cameron and Team Walker are hoping they will make the cut.

“Luckily we’re in a position to play for that pre-pre-trials event,” Cameron says. “And if we were not to be successful there, we would compete in the pre-trials, which was just announced will be in Nova Scotia.”

Growing the Game

Although the 2021 Scotties was in many ways an altered and unusual experience for Cameron and other Canadian curlers, she says there are some silver linings.

“It seems like everyone has just missed curling,” she says. “We noticed at the Scotties, the fanbase seemed to be more than just those people who were curling fans before, the regulars who always look forward to watching the Scotties. So that was kind of nice to see, that more people are getting behind the sport to inquire or flip us messages. Maybe it’s that their kids all of a sudden are realizing they have a desire to want to curl, or just general questions from newbies who have never really curled or watched it before. So that was really nice, to grow the game.”

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