'My dream came true': Meet the Saskatoon lawyer who represented Nunavut at the Tim Hortons Brier

CBC

They went in not expecting to qualify for the knockout rounds, and they didn't win a game.

But it was still a dream fulfilled for Dale Kohlenberg, a Saskatoon lawyer who ended up representing Nunavut at the Tim Hortons Brier.

Kohlenberg, 64, thought the days when he could compete at curling's top competition had long since passed. But a chance secondment to the Iqaluit office of the federal Department of Justice led to his surprise selection for the territory's team.

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"When I was done [my first day], I went to the Iqaluit curling club … and they were having a registration and open house," he explained.

Kohlenberg signed up, and asked only to be placed on a "fairly competitive curling team."

"They … said they'd put me on a team, but they wouldn't guarantee how competitive it would be," he said.

A few weeks later, while practising his throws at the rink, a man he'd never met asked if he'd join their team for the Nunavut playdowns and compete for a spot at the Brier.

"I gave that some thought and chatted with my wife and said, 'OK, I'll go for that,'" he said.

Their team was undefeated — and their spot at the 2020 Brier in Kingston, Ont., was secured.

A lifelong dream

Kohlenberg has curled competitively since he was 13.

"Growing up, of course, I played hockey," he said. "But by the time I was 13, I was … playing against bigger hockey players who seemed to like to body-check a lot. 

"When I walked over a couple of facilities to the curling rink, I saw that people there seemed to be having fun, and nobody seemed to be hitting anyone."

The son of an avid curler, Kohlenberg was born on the day Saskatchewan's Garnet "The Little General" Campbell won the first ever Brier. His middle name — Garnet — is an homage to Campbell's victory.

Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame
Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame

"I think it's probably fair to say that all young men and boys who pick up curling and have a competitive spirit … dream of going to the Brier," he explained. "I certainly did when I was a young man."

"By the time I hit my early 40s and had not made it there, I had resigned myself to the fact that that dream had died," he said. "So when this opportunity came up … it was as if my dream had come true."

An 'unblemished' record

On Team Nunavut, Kohlenberg was joined by Christian Smitheram, Ed MacDonald, and Jake Higgs, their skip and the team's one permitted "import" (Higgs is actually from Ontario).

"We knew that we weren't going to be winning the Brier," Kohlenberg said, "so our goal was to be respectable."

Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Kohlenberg said the team held their own, even against Prince Edward Island — their first game in the tournament and just their fourth as a team, against a side that included the current senior men's world champion.

"There's bright lights, there's a few thousand fans watching your game," he said. "It's certainly a higher performance, more elite type of game now."

In the end, Team Nunavut had seven losses in seven games. But around the games, Kohlenberg got the full elite experience — autograph sessions, fan Q&As, visits to local schools and interviews with TSN.

Even so, Kohlenberg said his personal highlight was simply "sitting in the locker room with some of the world's best curlers."

"It's a friendly group behind the scenes," he said.

His message to other fans?

"You should never consider your dreams to be dead while you're still breathing and pumping blood."

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