Rachel Homan was planning her curling comeback before she even left.
Homan skipped her Ottawa-based squad all the way to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts final in February while eight months pregnant.
Maternity leave wasn’t in the cards for the record 10-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s champion. Homan never missed a game with her women’s team and so far hasn’t missed a beat either this week in the Humpty’s Champions Cup, reaching Sunday’s playoffs just three weeks after giving birth to her second child, daughter Bowyn.
Lead Joanne Courtney said Homan told her during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts she was already thinking about returning for the back-to-back Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments in the bubble at Calgary’s WinSport Arena. Courtney kind of rolled her eyes, but then she already believed her skip was superwoman at the Scotties and who is anybody to doubt Homan?
“I think it goes without saying she’s a bit of a medical marvel,” Courtney said. “We were so happy to hear that she was feeling great after bringing Bowyn into the world. The fact that she wanted to come out here and play, we were absolutely supportive of it ensuring that everything felt OK.”
The original plan for the Humpty’s Champions Cup and Princess Auto Players’ Championship was for third Emma Miskew to take over as interim skip, and longtime friend Laura Walker subbing at third with Courtney and Sarah Wilkes, who joined the team at second this season, rounding out the lineup. It was going to be Miskew’s skip debut having played side-by-side with Homan for 20 years and running together since they were bantam prodigies. If there were any thoughts of a change it would involve Miskew and Walker, who skips her own Edmonton-based squad on tour and earned bronze for Alberta in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
“If it doesn’t go as planned we can always switch it up but I just thought it’s a good experience since I haven’t played without her since we were children,” Miskew said prior to the Humpty's Champions Cup. “You never know, if something ever were to happen in a big game, it’s just nice to have a little bit of experience under my belt. I thought it was a good time given not only the year we’ve had but the points are frozen. I’m just going to go into it and try to enjoy it because we’re lucky to be curling, first of all, but also who knows how it’ll go.”
John Morris is another childhood pal having played juniors with her older brother Mark Homan, and his dad, Earle Morris, was Team Homan’s longtime coach. The bond continues through today with Morris and Homan playing mixed doubles together. Morris earned bronze at the Canadian mixed doubles championship last month with Danielle Schmiemann subbing and reached out to Homan a couple weeks ago just to check in on her after the delivery. His mind was blown when Homan, who lives in St. Paul, Alta., told him she was thinking about coming down to Calgary to throw some rocks.
“I’m like, ‘What?! Are you crazy,’” said Morris, who also throws third for Kevin Koe’s Calgary crew. “She drove whatever three hours to Calgary because that’s all there was for ice in Alberta and threw at the Glencoe [Club].”
With Homan back in the saddle, Miskew was more than happy to return the reins.
“It doesn’t surprise me that she wanted to come back,” Miskew said. “Her competitive drive and athletic ability is almost second to none. I wasn’t counting on it, I was hoping it would be the case but I was like, ‘Oh well, she might need her time. It might not be going as well,’ but it’s amazing to have her here, especially with a new team this year to really just get more games as a unit is really important.”
Courtney, who moved over from second to lead this season, explained Homan believes it’s different for everyone and for herself it was something she felt like she wanted to do.
“We’re never going to tell Rachel what to do,” Courtney said. “When she gets that focus and that attention to play -- I don’t even know if Bowyn was a week old when she told us that she wanted to come. We just wanted to support her and help facilitate that and then of course make sure everything is safe for everyone involved. It’s a pretty special thing we’re doing out there and I’m very proud of her and very impressed.”
Team Homan’s first game of the Humpty’s Champions Cup Thursday morning was a rematch of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts final against Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man. It was another close battle but came down to the final shot of the game and Einarson making her signature shot -- a runback double takeout -- to score four points and win 6-3.
The reigning Canadian champion Einarson figured Homan would play as soon as she saw her hitting the ice during practice the previous day and wasn’t going to bet against it either.
“She’s like superwoman,” Einarson said. “I told her that when we were going out there, ‘Holy man, Rachel. You’re superwoman!’ It’s so impressive and she played so well. I have a lot of respect for her and it’s pretty amazing to see her out there.”
So far, so good and Homan, who shot 84 per cent in the opening game, said she felt normal out on the ice again.
“Surprisingly, it feels like it hasn’t been long since we played at the Scotties,” Homan said. “Just picked up right where I left off.”
Team Homan didn't need to regroup much and rolled through their remaining round-robin games picking up three consecutive victories to qualify for the quarterfinals.
Here's how the Humpty's Champions Cup playoff pictures have taken shape.
— Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling (@grandslamcurl) April 18, 2021
“It’s so nice to have Rachel there,” Miskew said. “She’s playing great and she says she feels good. In terms of this season, having no points and everything, it’s just nice to get the games in together. We didn’t qualify in the Slams last year so we’re really excited we got to qualify in this one.”
Team Homan honoured their commitment to Walker, who is on the bench as an alternate.
“It’s phenomenal that we have Laura around for backup just in case,” Courtney said. “It’s unbelievable that she’s able to do this, having played so far along into the Scotties and then to be back this fast is nothing short of incredible.”
Although no two births are alike, Courtney can sort of relate to what Homan has been experiencing as they were both pregnant with their first children while competing in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts two years ago.
“It’s something I would never be able to do myself but we’re super proud of her and to see her grit and determination on her end is incredible,” Courtney said. “She’s working around the clock right now with a newborn and to still want to get out there and play with us is very special.”
On the other hand, Morris can’t relate at all, obviously, but said he’s never seen a woman come back that quickly and Homan is just that much of a gamer.
“I know myself as a curler, I hate missing games and I’ve always said I’d have to have a broken leg to not be able to play and for Rachel, I feel like she’s the same,” Morris said. “With only having two Slams this year, you’d really hate to miss them and the way she played at the Scotties, she was their best player. She almost single-handedly won that final for them. She played so well.”
Morris hasn’t heard any complaints from Homan either.
“What I love about Rachel is that she never used it as an excuse," he said. "She’s just got that killer instinct in her. That’s why I love being her partner in mixed doubles. She’s just proven to any of her nay-sayers how great of a leader and champion she is.”
Koe echoed his teammate’s comments and said it’s nice to see Homan back on the ice.
“For me, Rachel might be my favourite curler ever and what she’s doing out there is amazing,” Koe said. “I didn’t look over to see how they were doing [in Draw 1] and if they were winning or not but the fact that she’s out here and competing, it’s pretty amazing that’s about all I can say and good for her. She’s just such a competitor and one of the best curlers ever.”
Skip Brad Jacobs from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., said it’s pretty impressive for Homan to return so quickly.
“We commend her for being able to do that and that’s pretty neat,” Jacobs said.
Homan said it’s really nice to hear compliments and kudos from her fellow curlers who believe she’s an inspiration.
“I’m just trying to do as much as I can to curl and attain our goals,” Homan said. “Everyone’s experience with pregnancy and delivery is going to be different so you can’t really compare. I was just fortunate I was able to recover quickly and to get back right onto the ice. I think if I was a sweeper it would be a different story. Probably my body wouldn’t hold up for sweeping for that many ends but with my position, I was able to bounce back.”
“It’s great I’m able to do that and it’s cool to hear others are inspired by it,” she added. “We’re always trying to push ourselves in sport and see what our bodies can do. It’s just really been great that I’ve been able to get back out there.”