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Cover Story – Colleen Jones – Mar/Apr2016

Cover Story - Colleen Jones - Mar/Apr2016

By Cece Scott cecescott.com

Authentic on every level: a true champion of mind, body and spirit.

Inspirational quotes with aspirational trimmings are the mantra-centric engines that ignite and power every facet of Nova Scotia’s Colleen Jones, curler extraordinaire. Jones, 56, a member of the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame, is a six-time Tournament of Hearts champion, two-time winning skip at the Worlds, a 29-year CBC broadcast journalist and a two-time author, including Throwing Rocks At Houses: My Life In And Out Of Curling (Viking, October 2015).

When Jones was 19 she won her first provincial championship. At 22, she was the youngest skip ever to win the national Canada Curling cup championship; a win that called for an inordinately intense focus at such a young age.

With her mother, Anne Christmas 1979 Colleen and Scott with sons Zach (L) and Luke (R)

“I was a bundle of nerves, not sleeping, not able to eat. I was getting sick to my stomach before games. In 1982, nobody was embracing meditation or yoga or psychology, which is funny, because now all of that is a part of my daily life. Back then I just muddled through the pressure I was under. We didn’t even know what we didn’t know. We were in uncharted territory.”

And while it was all about counting on the youth factor for game play advantage in the 1980s, Jones says it is now all about the benefits garnered from years of playing experience. “Am I as good now as I was at 22 or at 49? It is a tough thing to measure, but I think I am and I believe I am. I have 35 years of experience behind me that tells me what to do and how to do it.”

Jones comes from an out-size down-east family of nine kids. She is fifth on the sibling ladder of eight girls and one boy. At an early age Jones learned to march to the beat of her own drum in order to stand out in her estrogen-strong family. And because the family was so child-robust, the game of curling became a popular choice for Colleen’s mom, Anne, who relished the fact that curling took her daughters out of the house for a good chunk of the day, every Saturday. Several of Jones’ sisters played on the same teams with Jones, who was more often than not team skip.

Jones, an A-type, multi-tasking personality who thrives on the pressure to win, equates all the mental and physical preparation around curling as automatic as brushing her teeth. However, life changed dramatically on December 10, 2010, when a serious health crisis ripped through Jones’ life.

In the summer of that year, Jones, 51, had decided to come out of retirement and return to competitive curling, with an eye to qualifying for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Immersed in curling in one form or another, Jones was at the rink setting up drills for her son Luke’s junior curling practice that Saturday afternoon when she was hit with an overwhelming wave of dizziness and nausea.

An emergency trip to the hospital, and several tests later, Jones was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. “Waking up the next morning was the thrill of a lifetime,” Jones says. “I had this amazing epiphany— to be thankful that I survived, that I was well. I was really ready to carpe diem after that!

“I realized I was going through life with one big list, a steady stream of the things I needed to get done in a day. Up to that point, I felt if I didn’t get them done the world would come crashing down.”

With unwaivering focus on the game 1982 Nationals with Kay Zinck and sisters Monica and Barb Representing Nova Scotia at the 2013 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

The message was crystal clear for Jones: give up all the A-personality, multi-tasking lists, tasks and projects and, instead, immerse herself in the stuff she loved. “I have a bracelet on my arm that I got after surgery that says ‘gratitude’,” Jones says. “To remember every day to have gratitude that I am alive, and to have gratitude for the people in my life, and to have gratitude to be able to do the things I love to do.”

But that doesn’t mean to say that Jones’ competitive spirit is on ice. In fact, it is thriving, with Jones, at 56, playing competitively in the over-50 age group category for the Canadian Senior Women’s Curling Championship. The old monkey mind of Jones’ youth that used to whisper “I may lose” is now replaced by affirmations that embolden Jones with confidence and game-play assurance. “Generally, I only allow myself to think and say positive things,” Jones says. Positivity is an attitude Jones needs in abundance as she walks the path with her mom, Anne, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“There is no easy way to handle Alzheimer’s,” Jones says. “One has a hard time finding the bright side of this disease. It is an extremely sad thing to watch someone go through; it is like experiencing the seven stages of grief. All those dignified wonderful people; this disease takes away their whole identity.

“It is such an unfair and cruel disease. There are way too many people approaching this demographic and we all need to be made aware and take responsibility for spreading the word: we can find a cure and an answer for this disease. It is an urgent health crisis and it has to be made a priority.”

Jones is proactive in her approach to staying healthy— mentally, physically, and spiritually. Practices that include eating less sugar, bike riding, yoga, and engaging in lots of physical movement.

“If I was ever to get a tattoo it would say Carpe Diem– seize the day!”

“I love keeping my body strong. Bike rides are huge for me; just watching a little bit of pavement in front of me renews me. I will never be Clara Hughes but I enjoy having the goal of maybe biking places like Corsica, New Zealand, Argentina. I’ve done the GranFondo bike ride from Vancouver to Whistler (122 km). I like having goals I can set my sights on; goals without pressure. Although I always do put pressure on myself. I call it taming the beast,” Jones says with a laugh.

Jones, who foresees another 40 great years ahead of her and is “not going to miss a beat of it,” refuses to let age define what she can or cannot do. “I will always push to be the next chapter of my life. What else can I do, where else can I go?”

Life’s full package is fuelled by Jones’ cherished boys: husband Scott, “who has had her back the whole way,” and sons Zach and Luke. Jones refers to all of them as her best life teachers. Jones’ role as a human interest journalist for the CBC also keeps her centred and engaged with everyday life experiences, which in turn allows her to actualize her quest to be stronger, smarter, wiser.

Jones laughs as she admits that she is a big fan of what Keith Richards (of Rolling Stones fame) quipped in his 2015 documentary: “I’m not getting older, I’m evolving.”

“Every day I look forward to growing into the person I can be. I love this age. I don’t need to be 30 or 40 again,” Jones says. “For me, the key is to enjoy the moment I am in and work to a place of peace and gratitude every day. When I get to the end of this life I want to be able to say, I played this game of life really well.”