Hoarse Hearts: Canadian women’s curling championship can be hard on skips’ voices

Kerri Einarson calls it her “winter voice.”

Midway through the Canadian women’s curling championships, skips’ voices are raspy.

As the stakes rise, sweeping calls become more urgent. Volume and pitch increase, sometimes to a desperate shriek.

Some voices won’t stand up to the stress. Einarson’s voice crackles and some words disappear altogether in post-game interviews.

“I tend to lose my voice,” the Manitoba skip said. “It gets so loud in here and sometimes the girls can’t hear me so they ask me to yell loud.

“I just try not to yell so much. Only when I really have to.”

The parched prairie air of Moose Jaw, Sask., combined with the constant dehumidification at the arena to keep ice keen, has essentially turned the Scotties Tournament of Hearts into a winter desert.

“Arenas are always dry and hotels are always dry so if you’re in a place that’s more humid it’s less of a problem,” said defending champion Chelsea Carey of Calgary.

“Even for me being used to it, it’s very dry. I go through both my two bottles of water and I’m not even sweeping.”

Lozenges, hydration, and salt-water gargles

For Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville, it’s not a question of if her voice will weaken, but when.

“Oh my goodness, I have lost my voice more times than I haven’t lost my voice,” said Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville. “I find the farther west we go, the drier it is.

“I said to my team every single time I have a really loud yell, I just need a drink after because it is dry out there. I don’t want to lose my voice so I’ve been trying to drink a lot of water.”

Because taking a vow of silence between draws is a difficult option, lozenges, hydration and salt-water gargles are voice-preservation strategies.

Communication between skip and sweepers is a key component of the game, and the inability to do that is a disadvantage.

Nova Scotia’s Jill Brothers lost her voice completely last year in Sydney, N.S.

“I felt so bad for Jill Brothers last year,” defending champion Chelsea Carey said. “(She) had zero voice. Not even to me standing right beside her. She could barely communicate with me.

“It was that way most of the week and I felt so bad for her. She couldn’t communicate with her team.”

The higher the octave and the more operatic the call, the more stress on vocal cords.

“I’m not really a screamer like some,” Nova Scotia’s Mary-Anne Arsenault said. “It’s a ‘yes’ and a ‘whoa.’

“I sometimes get a little bit excited when it’s close on line. I’m not somebody who maintains the scream so I think that probably helps save my voice. It’s more my personality, just kind of chill.

“I’ve heard where other skips do the salt-water gargle and things like that.”

‘You’re caught up in the moment’

Two-time Canadian champion Heather Nedohin was the queen of croak at Hearts. Her voice would start to fail early in the tournament.

Hall of Famer Russ Howard’s distinctive caw routinely trashed his voice in at the men’s national championship.

His team trying two-way radio receivers — called walkie-talkies — at the 1989 Brier in Saskatoon caused a furor and became part of Canadian curling lore.

Howard was told by the Canadian Curling Association they were illegal, but there wasn’t a rule against them at the time.

The CCA quickly amended a rule mid-tournament to prohibit their use.

Nova Scotia lead Emma Logan received medical clearance for her sweepers to use a Bluetooth microphone at this year’s Tournament of Hearts.

The 22-year-old is deaf, but her cochlear implants can pick up her teammate talking into the microphone.

Skips employ hand signals to give sweepers visual cues, but sweepers need to look down at the rock.

Skips’ voices are still the most effective communication tool. The heat of the moment can do a number on them.

“Even at the point at where you might not want to yell and your throat is really, really sore, you’re caught up in the moment and you’ve got to yell,” Carey said.

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