A Cranbrook curling enthusiast will be an umpire at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics.
Donna Butler will travel to Russia from March 3 to 17 to volunteer as an umpire for the wheelchair curling events – about 14 games, Butler said.
“Each game I’m assigned to two teams to make sure everything goes well for those teams on the ice,” she told the Townsman. “We’re busy. There’s two games a day plus there’s practice ice and late night practice.”
Butler is an umpire for Curl B.C., the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation. She has been involved in curling for longer than 30 years, and it goes without saying that she is passionate about the sport.
“It’s a gentleman’s sport. They shake hands before they start; they shake hands before they finish. And they look like sometimes they’re not that happy with each other but they hang out together after and they sit down and have a drink or supper together.”
Butler has been an umpire at seven or eight world championships, she said, a role that has taken her to Korea twice, the Czech Republic, and all over Canada. Later this year she will travel to Beijing, China, as an umpire, and hopes to go to Japan in the same capacity next year.
A retired health care worker, Butler was an on-ice volunteer at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and a game umpire at the 2010 Paralympics.
“People don’t believe that we all volunteer to do this. But that’s the only way that you can sustain most sports is to have good volunteers and people who are willing to do it,” said Butler.
“I work with some really great people who do the wheelchair and the men’s and ladies and juniors. There are a lot of really good officials in Canada and now in Europe.
“You meet people from all over the world and you become friends.”
The wheelchair curling athletes have an extra challenge: there is no sweeping in their event.
“The ice is a bit keener and their rocks aren’t as sharp; they’re not textured as much so they don’t curl as much as they do in regular curling,” said Butler.
“That all has to be taken into consideration when they play the sport – that they don’t have any sweeping.”
Wheelchair athletes in particular are grateful for the volunteers that help run the game.
“They are just appreciative of the time that people put in,” said Butler. “I think they realize that they wouldn’t have something like this without all these volunteers.”
Butler travelled to Sochi last February to test the curling facility, and was impressed by the Olympic venues.
“The figure skating stadium is just incredible. It’s all ceramic tiles on the outside; it looks like a big wave. They are all beautiful.”
Her family is concerned about her safety at the Paralympics, but Butler is fairly confident that she won’t be affected by terrorist attacks during her stay in Sochi.
“I think if anything is going to happen, it’s going to happen at the Olympics,” she said.
“All the stadiums are in the one area. The villages are there, the media centre is there, the hotels are all in the one cluster. So you get into that cluster and it will be quite secure.”
The 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games run from March 7 to 16, with wheelchair curling events on March 8 to 15. Some events will be televised on CBC and Sportsnet.