This article originally appeared in the April 6th, 2015 issue of Sportsnet magazine.
Finding Fred Koe at a major curling event is never a problem. The father of three national-level curlers is a born flag-waver, happy to be front and centre, shouting encouragement to his kids. Lynda Koe, however, can be a little tougher to spot. She’s often in a quieter corner of the stands, doing her best to deal with the stress of each shot. And depending on how things are going for her kids, Lynda might occupy a few different spots in the arena, looking for that one lucky seat.
Just as their parents have distinct spectating experiences, Kevin Koe, his younger brother, Jamie Koe, and Jamie’s twin sister, Kerry Galusha, have each taken different curling paths.
All three grew up learning the game at the Yellowknife Curling Centre, but while Jamie and Kerry still live in the Northwest Territories, Kevin has found international success representing his adopted province of Alberta. Regardless of the banner he competes under, Kevin’s victories are celebrated throughout the North, all the way up past the Arctic circle to tiny Aklavik near the Northwest Territories’ western tip, where Fred’s roots lie.
And while Jamie and Kerry can’t yet match their big brother’s resumé—which includes two Brier titles in the past five years, gold at the 2010 World Championships and a berth at the Players’ Championship in Toronto in April—they’ve brought enormous pride to their part of the country with smaller-scale wins.
With Kevin and Jamie facing off at the Brier, Kerry upsetting Team Canada and the twins nearly taking a national mixed title, the Koe crew have established themselves as the North’s first family of curling.
Though it would eventually come to occupy an enormous place in her life, Kerry’s decision to get involved in organized curling wasn’t her own. The family moved around when the kids were young, spending time in Ottawa and Aklavik—where the boys handled their first rocks—while Fred took jobs with the federal and territorial governments. He eventually landed in Yellowknife when Kevin was about 12 years old and the twins were around 10.
Both Fred and Lynda are curling nuts, and when the latter began running the local junior program, it meant Kerry was bound for the rink most days after school simply because that’s where her mom was. "I had no choice," says a deadpan Kerry, now 37, of her curling origins. "I was forced into it."
While Kerry’s enthusiasm for the game arrived a touch later than her brothers’, all three Koe (pronounced "KOO-ee") kids soon found themselves chasing national titles at the junior level.
The most notable example was the 1994 Canadian junior championship in Truro, N.S., when a team skipped by Kevin (and featuring Jamie as third and Fred as coach) advanced to the final game against Alberta. With the contest in extra ends, the Territories team thought Kevin had made a shot for the win. However, before that shot fully came to rest, the team had moved an inconsequential rock, resulting in the controversial decision to hand the title to Alberta.
Soon after that disappointment, Kevin—who was born in Edmonton, where Fred and Lynda originally met—left Yellowknife to pursue a degree in business and commerce at the University of Calgary. After graduating, he landed a good job with Talisman Energy, which made his permanent move to Alberta an organic process.
"It wasn’t really curling that made my decision for me," says Kevin, now a 40-year-old father of two who still works for Talisman.
Regardless of what was guiding Kevin’s decisions, his journey to national and international titles is reflective of the choice facing all top athletes—all aspirational people in any realm, for that matter—coming from small places: Leave your home in pursuit of a big dream or stay where your heart is, knowing it may prevent you from reaching the pinnacle of your field. It’s a theme still encountered by the Koes who remain in Yellowknife.
"Every year I go to the Scotties, I have a reporter asking me, ‘If you lived down south, do you think you’d do better?’ and my answer is always ‘Yes,’" says Kerry. "I know I could probably move down south and play front end for a decent team and do really well at the nationals, but it’s my choice to live up north. We love living here. I couldn’t imagine leaving."
It’s largely the same for Jamie, who spent some time curling out of Alberta with his brother early in his career, but ultimately moved back to Yellowknife, where he, like his sister, has a young family and works for the territorial government.
Jamie’s entries at the Brier often feature players he’s spent his entire life curling with and against, including Kevin and Mark Whitehead—brothers from another northern curling family—and Brad Chorostkowski, who’s been with Jamie for each of his nine trips to the national championship. His best showing at that event came in 2012, when Northwest Territories/Yukon finished with a round-robin record of 7-4. Naturally, Jamie’s fourth-place squad played Kevin’s third-seeded Alberta rink in the playoffs.
Though the Koes had faced each other before at the Brier, the significance of this showdown made it special—and a little nerve-racking. "Leading up to it, there was the Koe-versus-Koe hashtag and tons of chatter about the Koe-versus-Koe playoff game," says Jamie. "But once we got out there, it was fine. You got some goosebumps when they did the team announcements and it was Kevin Koe versus Jamie Koe."
Kevin—who says these head-to-heads can be very tough on his parents—was able to get the best of his younger brother in a 10–6 victory before losing the final to Glenn Howard and Team Ontario. But in some ways, the bigger story was Jamie taking his rink to the bronze-medal game, where they lost an 8–7 extra-end heartbreaker to Rob Fowler and Manitoba.
It was one of those moments that didn’t result in a tangible reward, but fostered unmistakable respect for a place that’s used to getting kicked around. "That performance solidified [the Territories] as a team to be taken seriously," says James McCarthy, a sports editor at Northern News Services. "Before, we were considered the also-rans."
Kerry’s penchant for beating Team Canada—she’s done it at three different Scotties tournaments—is another thing that’s created national headlines, though her personal highlight may have come last November, when she played third and Jamie skipped a mixed team that lost to Saskatchewan in the Canadian final. Had they won, it would have been the first national curling title for the Territories at any level or classification.
While Kerry and Jamie continue chasing victories of any size for their home, Kevin has his eyes fixed on the one thing missing from his resumé: an Olympic gold medal. No matter who produces the next family victory, an already-vast area would swell with pride at the knowledge that one of its own—regardless of where they call home now—had done them proud.