Photo Courtesy of Rich Harmer/USA Curling
A Malvern family embraces an illustrious tradition in a low-key sport.
The Philadelphia Curling Club isn’t your average ice rink. Its slippery patch measures roughly 150 feet long and 15 feet wide, with lanes marked at each end by what look like two giant bulls-eyes. There’s no figure skating or hockey here. Its 250 active members gather for something else.
Dating back to 16th-century Scotland, curling is one of the oldest team sports in the world. Yet it remains a lesser-known entity here in the United States. Popular in the northern reaches of the country and Canada, it has been gaining a bit of a foothold in the mainstream thanks to its recent popularity at the Olympic Games.
The Dudt family has been on the ice at the Philadelphia Curling Club for decades, well before the sport gained its more recent Olympic status. The club was founded in Paoli in 1957 by Dr. Dwight Coons, a Wayne dentist who served as a brigadier in the Royal Canadian Dental Corps in World War II. He recruited a number of friends, including Al Hutchinson.
Two generations later, Hutchinson’s grandchildren are curling aces, thanks to their enthusiastic parents and countless trips from their Malvern home to the club over the years. Nurtured by her father, Leslie Dudt’s love of the sport naturally extended to her husband, Brian, and their children, Andrew, Daniel and Susan. Brian, who works in research and development for King of Prussia-based biopharmaceutical company CSL Behring, is now a board member at the Philadelphia Curling Club. He also coached his three kids and, along with Leslie, ran the club’s junior program. Though their children played other sports, curling quickly became a family tradition. “It’s a whole new community, and you make friends through that,” says Susan.
“[It’s a] close-knit group, and they really become your best friends,” Brian adds. “It’s just a really fun environment.”
First introduced to the Olympics in Chamonix, France, in 1924, curling remained on the fringes as a demonstration sport until 1998. Since then, men and women have vied for medals in what’s affectionately known as the “roaring game”—in reference to the sound the massive granite stone makes as it whooshes across the ice. Two teams comprised of four players—in lead, second, third and skip positions, respectively—use brooms to move the stone down the ice, with the goal of getting closest to those concentric rings. As they do, teams must formulate and execute plans to block opponents from doing the same.
The Philadelphia Curling Club has fostered some top talent. Twins Sarah and Taylor Anderson, who grew up in Broomall and played at the club, have earned numerous medals in the sport. Relocating to Minnesota, they compete nationally and internationally. Berwyn native Cody Clouser also grew up on the ice in Paoli, before going on to compete at Team USA’s Junior National Championships, College National Championships (where he’s won silver and gold) and National Championships. Clouser competes with Dresher natives Scott and Andy Dunnam—also products of Philadelphia Curling Club—alongside the Dudts’ eldest son, Daniel, on the national level.
Graduates of Great Valley High School, the Dudt children have had their own success in the sport. The youngest, Susan, graduated from high school this past June. She’s been competing nationally since eighth grade. Last year, she was selected for the Team USA Junior High Performance Program. This year, her team won gold in the Junior National Championships (under 21) in Eau Claire, Wis. The previous year, with Brian as coach, Susan’s team won the Junior Nationals (under 18). “The program gives you a lot more opportunities to travel and play at the higher-level events you need to be invited to,” says Susan, who’s gone as far away as China to participate in the sport.
Because Susan’s teammates are scattered across the country, they only meet at select times. With the help of trainers, coaches and sports psychologists, they practice, train and compete in Minneapolis.
With the season largely taking place October-March, off-ice training is equally important. For Susan, that means lots of independent workouts, with a focus on strength training. “Cardio is also a very important part, because the games are so long,” she says. “Throughout the game, you get tired—especially mentally.”
A former rower in high school, Susan is used to putting hours in at the gym. “Nutrition is very important, too,” her father adds. “You have to eat properly—not just during the tournament but throughout the whole year.”
As much as it is physical, “curling is such a mental sport,” Susan says. Competitive national and international games last more than two hours and require extended periods of concentration and strategizing. “It’s kind of like chess in that you have to keep on thinking forward,” she says.
Riding their junior national championship, Susan and her team will try to earn a spot in the World Junior Curling Championships this fall (so long as the season goes forward). Susan is also beginning her freshman year at Bucknell University, where she’ll study civil engineering. Like curling, engineering seems to run in the family. Both of Susan’s older brothers studied it, one at Bucknell.
Long term, Susan has her sights set on playing for Team USA in the Winter Olympics. Whatever comes next, she knows curling will long play a part. “I’m hoping I can continue curling, even if it’s at a more recreational level,” she says. “It’s a lifetime sport.”
And for the Dudts, a family one, too.
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