(Nancy Martin photo - image credit)
As Saskatchewan's Team Sherry Anderson takes to the ice at this year's Scotties tournament in Calgary, each of the five members is going to be carrying with them an extra player nobody in the arena will see. But Aly Jenkins will be in the hearts and minds of each curler.
"I can hear her. The questions she would have," said Nancy Martin, the team's third. "I can feel the excitement she would have. She's a part of us and always will be a part of our team."
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The dream of one day playing at the crown jewel of women's curling is what drove Jenkins to practise on the pebbled ice hour after hour. She wanted so badly to be at the national championship, and came within a shot of that goal in the 2019 provincial final as a member of Team Anderson.
But tragedy struck in an unimaginable way less than a year later. That October, the vibrant and fun-loving Jenkins died of a rare amniotic embolism giving birth to her third child, Sydney.
Aly was just 30 and her death sent a shock wave through the curling community.
At last year's Scotties in Moose Jaw, Sask., Aly's husband Scott and their three children took to the ice in her honour. It was supposed to be her moment. Instead, they stood behind the curling sheets as a capacity crowd paid tribute to Aly.
"It was something special. I remember being on the ice. I wasn't sure if I could hold it together in front of everyone," Scott told CBC Sports.
Aly Jenkins dreamed of curling in the Scotties.
The single father is now picking up the pieces, trying to find some sort of normal with his two daughters and son.
Sydney, who celebrated her first birthday this past fall, is a happy and healthy baby. Scott calls her his miracle baby.
Now Aly's team is in the Scotties by virtue of garnering enough points to be selected to represent the province. Scott knows how much she would have loved this moment.
"This is what she put all the hours in with her team for. This is what she trained for. This was her dream. And I think we all believed she would get there," Scott said. "Now that Team Anderson is there, it makes it real. And she is there with the team right now."
Scott has sent a Saskatchewan jersey with Jenkins on the back with Team Anderson for this year's tournament. Martin says they will be taking it with them every step of the way.
Aly Jenkins is pictured with her husband Scott, son Brady and daughter Avery.
"It's going to be in the front lobby of the hotel. The teams will sign it," she said. "I'm planning to bring it out onto the ice near [our] coach."
And so at each game, at the end of the sheet that Team Anderson is playing on, Aly's presence will be close to the ice she once dreamed of sliding and sweeping on.
And Martin says they're going to be giving everything they have for her.
"Play with your heart is what she'd say to us. Go out there and play your guts out," Martin said.
Back home in Saskatchewan, Scott and his kids will be glued to the TV cheering on Team Anderson every shot throughout the Scotties.
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"Aly absolutely loved this time of year. She wouldn't miss the games. She'd record the ones she'd miss at work and watch them when she got home," Scott said.
"We're going to continue that in this house. It's something I know the kids would love to watch with their mom. I'm so excited for the ladies. They deserve this and they're going to do Saskatchewan proud. And we'll be watching them and cheering them on throughout."
Both Scott and Martin say during those dark early days after Aly's death it was the curling community who helped keep them going.
"How well our family was treated and the tribute to Aly. It is always going to hit home when the Scotties starts," Scott said.
And Martin, who curled beside Aly for two years, wants to do her proud.
"I'm so thrilled I got to be part of her life. I can just see her smile. She's always at the forefront of our mind," Martin said.