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July 2, 2024

This Is My Thing: Curling!

By: Mike Lee

The sport of curling requires something that’s not easy to find in Texas: a very large sheet of ice. Nevertheless, curling is becoming more popular in the Lone Star State. For Dave Danenfelzer, a Wisconsinite by birth but a Texan for the past few decades, curling is a lifelong passion and a family tradition.

The full transcript of this episode of KUT News Now is available on the KUT & KUTX Studio website. The transcript is also available as subtitles or captions on some podcast apps.

This Is My Thing: Curling!

Michael Lee [00:00:14] I’m Michael Lee and you’re listening to This Is My Thing, and you’re probably also listening to this as part of the ‘KUT News Now’ podcast feed. So I should let you know that this show has absolutely nothing to do with the news. So, you know, prepare yourself accordingly. On This Is My Thing, we talk to people about the things they do just for themselves. It’s not their job and it’s not a responsibility. It’s just a thing that brings them joy or feeds their soul. This week: curling! The sport where players slide stones across the ice at a target several meters away. It’s not the first sport you think of when you think of Texas, but our guest, Dave Danenfelzer, has been playing this winter sport all his life.

Dave Danenfelzer [00:00:54] My name is Dave Danenfelzer and I am into curling. The kind of do on ice.

Michael Lee [00:01:05] How did you get your start curling.

Dave Danenfelzer [00:01:07] So I – if you can’t tell from my accent – I’m not from Texas. I am from northern Wisconsin. The absolute northern part of I-35 actually is where I’m from, in Superior, Wisconsin. And, growing up, my grandfather was a very big curler. Competed on national and international teams. And he brought me in – probably when I was around 10 or 11 – to the club, would get me to throw stones. And then through high school, I played with, you know, junior teams, in high school and college. So I’ve been doing it for over 30 years. But, when I went away to college, after I left college, there was probably a good amount of time I didn’t curl. And really, when we moved here in ‘95, there was no curling club, and I pretty much gave up my hopes of ever, you know, being a champion curler. But around 2008, 2010, the Austin Curling Club showed up and I found out about it, and I joined, and I’ve been a member ever since.

Michael Lee [00:02:13] When you moved to Texas, did you at that point think your curling days were behind you?

Dave Danenfelzer [00:02:18] Yeah, when I moved to Texas – and I did it for love — I thought I had given up curling. So, yeah, when I, when I found out that we had a club in Austin, it was pretty awesome. If you had asked me ten years ago when I joined the club or a little over ten years ago, I would have said, you know, I’m I’m happy to be using hockey ice once a week and curling and it’s it’s fine. But, now that we have a club, we’re grown enormously. You know, we have dedicated ice, so no skates touch that ice now on a weekly or monthly basis. Ever. We are running learn-to-curls. They’re probably doing 100 to 200 folks a week come through and learn how to curl. And the club’s really grown because of that. We used to be able to get by on two league nights, maybe three. Now we have like 5 or 6 leads a week.

Michael Lee [00:03:25] Tell me about league night. What’s that like?

Dave Danenfelzer [00:03:27] Oh, league nights are awesome. You make good friends, and you get to know the 32 people on the ice. You know, like anything, there’s folks that… sometimes, I think live at the curling club. But then again, there’s a lot of folks who just show up and they play their game and they enjoy it. And, I’d like to think I’m somewhere in between.

Michael Lee [00:03:50] As something that you do because you love it and not because you’re getting paid for it, what does curling do for your brain and for your heart?

Dave Danenfelzer [00:03:58] Well, one, it’s a lot more physical sport than a lot of people give it. The sweeping – when you have to sweep – is, I call it a sprinter sport in the sense that you have to be able to get on the ice. You have to basically run a sprint, but sweep a sprint and your heart rate gets way up there. My heart tracker does a good job of showing that I’m getting a workout and, being able to go from super intensity to then complete relaxation. It is good. And it actually feels good. In a way, it’s, you know, kind of like yoga or like meditation. You kind of can being able to focus on your body and relax it when you need to. It’s, it’s it’s a great feeling.

Michael Lee [00:04:40] I was actually asking like metaphorically, what does it do for your heart? But oh, it’s like literally there’s cardio benefit.

Dave Danenfelzer [00:04:47] Yeah. Literally there’s there’s a cardio benefit. Yeah. I mean, just stepwise, you can walk 10,000 steps in a game. So if you’re looking for your 10,000 steps, it’s a great way to do it. Metaphysically, though, I think it’s like, with anything, if you can get in, attain that zone where you can make a great shot, there’s just an amazing elation you get, you know, the dopamine, all those little drugs they say your brain produces and makes you happy. Curling does that for me. It both relaxes me and excites me at the same time. It’s an amazing high kind of, for me to be able to go out there and, to play well. And it’s also just nice to go see people. It’s really great to just go out there and chat and connect.

Michael Lee [00:05:39] Is there anything therapeutic about it for you? Is it a form of therapy?

Dave Danenfelzer [00:05:44] Oh yeah, I mean, it it is something I can focus on that is not work. That isn’t, you know, you know, things falling apart around the house. It’s not traffic. It’s not, you know, retirement savings or anything else. It is something I can go and just focus on for two hours every game I go play and just forget about the world. And it’s… Yeah, that’s amazing. Part of it, too, is, I don’t have to drive far for it, but when I get there, I’m in another world. I don’t think about home or work or anything else. So it’s it’s a great space for that.

Michael Lee [00:06:35] Tell me about curling with your grandfather. What was that like?

Dave Danenfelzer [00:06:40] I learned a lot. It was really interesting to be on the ice, with adults, because there wasn’t a lot of kids playing at that time, even. And oftentimes I would play in the senior league because the combined age had to be something like 150 or something at that time. And, you know, my grandpa was in his 60s and all of his friends were in their 60s. So it was like we could throw a ten year old and they won’t throw our average out. We’ll be fine. But, it was great experience because I curled with a lot of, some of the great curlers really, of the 1980s, American curlers like Bud Somerville and Bobby Nichols. Glen Harris. So it was amazing to be able to, get on the ice, with some of these amazing curlers.

Michael Lee [00:07:29] As a kid, were you aware at what level he was curling, or was it just your grandpa?

Dave Danenfelzer [00:07:34] You know, most of his curling at that level was when I was – before I was a baby or when I was a baby. And so I really didn’t know much about it when I started curling. He, you know, you know, I’d go to the club and I’d see these pictures of him with three other guys and, you know, winning a, curling bonspiel or an event or having a trophy, but it wasn’t like you would go and be like, wow, he’s amazing. You just like, well, that’s grandpa. Like, that was just this. He just does this and he’s good enough to win a trophy. It wasn’t really until many years later that, you know, I, I’d be at the club and even now, like, if I go back to the club now, I can see pictures of him and be like, wow. Like, they still have his picture on the wall after 40 years and or 50 years because he won a national championship, or he curled on this world championship team. And that today is much more impactful. When you’re a kid, you don’t really think about it, but now it’s like, wow, that that is kind of cool. And and folks, you know, that I don’t know when I go back will be like, hey, wait, that’s your grandpa. Like, that guy is awesome. Like, like I never curled with him, but he he was really great curler. And it’s like, yeah, I’m not as good as him. But, certainly have the passion he had.

Michael Lee [00:09:09] What was your grandfather’s name?

Dave Danenfelzer Max Holmgren.

Michael Lee Is curling now – is it a way to connect with your grandfather? And I’m assuming your grandfather’s no longer with us.

Dave Danenfelzer [00:09:20] That’s correct. He passed away around 1992. Yeah. It is a way for me to connect. I mean, it was something I loved and I grew into, and found my own passion for it, but, but certainly… well, I’m reminded every time I go curling of my grandfather because I actually, my curling bag where I keep my equipment, my shoes and stuff, is his bag from the 1984 World Championships. And so I carry that with me every day. He actually wrote my name on the bottom of it when he gave it to me. And so I just I am reminded of him every time I go throw.

Michael Lee [00:10:06] You know, you were talking about curling with your grandfather, who was a great curler in the 80s. That’s around the time that people from further south in America started to kind of be aware that curling was a thing, right?

Dave Danenfelzer [00:10:21] Yeah, definitely. I know that since the 1980s, the expansion of curling clubs southward in the United States has kind of steadily grown, and built momentum. There’s always been clubs in some of the more Mid-America areas, like Saint Louis and Kansas City for a long time. But, you know, now we’ve got, you know, the the Houston club, started in the late 80s, early 90s. There’s club in Dallas that’s had regular attendance for over 15 years. There’s one in Austin now that has dedicated Ice. And, you know, even Southern California, Georgia, have curling clubs. South Carolina. So there’s a lot of growth southward. And I think a big part of that is, you know, televised curling started happening on the Winter Olympics in the 80s. And so it, you know, even though it wasn’t as popular, it’s definitely, started to grab hold here.

Michael Lee [00:11:26] Seeing curling on TV has definitely made it more popular in the warmer parts of America, but it’s also made some people, myself included, unfortunately, assume that the sport is maybe a little easier than it really is.

Michael Lee [00:11:42] About an hour after I met him, Dave took me out on the ice for a quick lesson in sliding stones.

Michael Lee [00:12:06] Honestly, it did not go great. You know that sliding motion you see curlers do easily on TV? I learned that motion needs a surprising amount of core and leg strength, and it’s not nearly as easy as it looks. Or at least it wasn’t easy for me.

Michael Lee [00:12:25] But there’s a really logical reason for why we might think it’s going to be easier than it is. And it was explained to me by Darren Henley.

Michael Lee [00:12:45] Darren is one of Dave’s friends and fellow curlers, and he manages the Ice at Curl Austin.

Dave Danenfelzer [00:14:13] So I think leisure and hobbies, anything that you know, you can break away from the daily grind and, you know, focus on – whether it’s knitting or soccer or Dungeons and Dragons – anything that gets you out of that headspace that you’re in all day when you’re at work and you can go and enjoy yourself. And that might be alone. It might be with friends. But, I think it, it is that that space away from your normal daily grind that you enjoy.

Michael Lee [00:14:48] Do you think this is something you’re going to do for the rest of your life?

Dave Danenfelzer [00:14:51] I hope so, yeah. I mean, I know my grandfather did it until he was about 88, and, he died, a few years later. So, yeah, I’m hopeful that I can curl into my 80s like he did. And when you, you know, you get bit and you’re, you’re hooked on it. You get this great feeling going out there and, you know, making shots like they do in the Olympics. You make one of those shots and you just feel amazing.

Michael Lee [00:15:28] Thanks for listening to This Is My Thing. I’m Michael Lee and I produce the show. Special thanks, of course, to Dave Danenfelzer for sharing his love of curling and some memories of his grandfather with us. Also thanks to Rebecca McElroy, Antonette Masondo, and Juan Garcia for helping develop the show. Find more – including a video of Dave on the ice – at the This Is My Thing show page at kut.org. You’ll also find a form on that page to let you tell us about your thing, and maybe be a part of a future episode. And while you’re at it, if you’re having fun filling out forms on the internet, there’s another form you can fill out on the KUT website to become a member of the station. Our members make this and everything we do possible.

Laurie Gallardo [00:16:17] Support for This Is My Thing comes from Eckert Insurance. Worry less, live more.

This transcript was transcribed by AI, and lightly edited by a human. Accuracy may vary. This text may be revised in the future.


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