Team Canada skip Brad Gushue, centre, makes a shot as lead Geoff Walker, left, and second Brett Gallant sweep while they play Team Alberta at the Brier in Calgary, Alta., on March 13, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Walker clan settles into curling bubble life again with Canadian mixed doubles

Walker clan settles into curling bubble life again with Canadian mixed doubles

CALGARY — Geoff Walker knows every inch of the room, hall, lobby and parking lot of the hotel housing teams in Calgary’s curling bubble.

He and infant son Liam will cover the same ground while Laura Walker competes in the Canadian mixed doubles curling championship starting Thursday.

Geoff embarked on his fourth straight week in the bubble Wednesday.

Geoff plays lead for Brad Gushue, who competed in the Canadian men’s championship that concluded Sunday at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre.

Laura skipped Alberta to a bronze medal in last month’s national women’s championship.

She and Geoff tag-teamed on baby duty while Laura shunted back and forth across the Trans-Canada Highway between hotel and arena.

A tight turnaround between playoff games for Laura had Geoff hustling Liam across the highway for a feeding.

Laura and Liam headed home to Edmonton while Geoff competed in the Tim Hortons Brier with Gushue.

Mother and son re-entered the bubble Monday for Laura to be tested and to quarantine, so she can play mixed doubles with Kirk Muyres.

Mixed doubles is the third Curling Canada event held without spectators in a controlled environment to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

While Laura competes, a sunny-day stroll around the parking lot is as far afield as the family goes.

“That’s what we look forward to, going outside in the parking lot,” Laura said.

Liam, who turns six months old Thursday, will forever be known in Canada’s elite curling community as the bubble baby.

And while the bubble has been a unique experience for everybody, only the Walkers know what goes into raising an infant son in it.

“Last week was the first week I’d been away from him and Laura since we had him,” Geoff told The Canadian Press. “I was able to catch up on a little bit of sleep. She’s probably not too happy about that.

“Now I’ll try to take as much on as I can. It would be pretty chaotic if we were both trying to play in the mixed doubles at the same time.”

Juggling elite curling and an infant is hectic, not to mention the sleeplessness factor.

The Walkers feel fortunate to be able to curl in national championships this year and be together as a family, while other competitors are without their loved ones cheering them on in the building.

“For me, it’s more mentally trying to put myself first as an athlete as much as I can to perform, but then also continue to take care of Liam the best that I can,” Laura said.

“The best part is kind of what we’ve learned about ourselves and for me, personally, what I’ve learned about myself and what I can do, what I can handle and how much I can take on and still perform at my best.”

She and Muyres, who plays second on the Matt Dunstone team that finished third in the Brier, won a Canadian mixed doubles title and a world championship bronze medal in 2018.

They’re among 35 duos in this year’s $150,000 Home Hardware Canadian mixed doubles curling championship.

The top 12 teams emerging from five pools advance to playoffs March 23, followed by the gold-medal game March 25.

The winners earn $50,000 and represent Canada at the world championship if and when the World Curling Federation names a date and a location.

Canada’s mixed doubles event includes 34 curlers who competed in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier. Hearts winner Kerri Einarson returns to Calgary.

Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Brianne Meilleur would have been unavailable for mixed doubles if the women’s world championship in Switzerland had gone ahead this month.

The WCF cancelled it, however, and added it to Calgary’s curling bubble April 30 to May 9.

Einarson and Gushue, Sweeting and Marc Kennedy, Birchard and Caitlin Schneider and Meilleur and Gushue third Mark Nichols are among the teams battling for a mixed title.

Brendan Bottcher, who skipped Alberta to a Brier championship Sunday, chases another curling title with fiancée Bobbie Sauder.

2014 Olympic women’s curling champion skip Jennifer Jones and husband Brent Laing are also in the field.

John Morris, who won Olympic mixed doubles gold in 2018 with Kaitlyn Lawes, replaced partner Homan with Danielle Schmiemann because Homan is due to give birth soon.

The Walkers aren’t done with Calgary’s curling bubble after mixed doubles.

Walker returns with Gushue and Walker will sub in on Homan’s team for a pair of Grand Slams in April. That’s when baby management goes next-level.

“Once the draw gets released, we can make a plan,” Geoff said. “I think they’re going to do a good job trying to separate our draws as much as possible.

“The only time it might be tough is if we do make the playoffs and do have a draw around the same time or at the same time.”

Added Laura: “It’ll be busy and chaotic and I might not get as much sleep as I’d like, but I think we’ll be OK.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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