You know you’ve made it in the curling world when you get asked to pose for the annual calendar.
Shannon Birchard has been making a splash on (and now off) the ice winning Canadian and world championships as a super spare on Team Jennifer Jones and has helped her new squad Team Kerri Einarson capture four World Curling Tour titles to reach the upper echelon of the rankings.
Birchard’s breakout banner year landed her a spot as Miss August in the 2019 Women of Curling fundraising calendar. The 24-year-old from Winnipeg didn’t expect to be asked given how new she is to the elite level, but she had no hesitation saying yes.
“It’s for such a great cause and why not?” said Birchard, who throws second stones for Team Einarson. “It’s kind of a fun little opportunity to do a photoshoot and join some really awesome, beautiful, talented ladies in the spread there.”
“I’m feeling pretty flattered to have been asked and really loving the calendar so far,” she added. “It’s been awesome the support that we’ve gotten.”
Birchard aimed to make waves with her photo and ventured down the risqué route posing poolside in a bikini.
“I wanted to do something that had a lot of colour and really popped when you looked at it,” she said. “I also kind of figured I would push the envelope just a little bit. I had fun with it and had a really great photographer in Josh Dookhie. He helped me with the creative process and really helped me with the modelling process as well because that’s not something I’m necessarily used to as well.”
She’s received support from her skip Einarson, who said it was great for Birchard to appear in the calendar.
“She definitely has a face for photography,” Einarson said. “She’s a beautiful girl and her picture is just outstanding. Raising funds for KidSport Manitoba is a great thing for her.”
A portion of the proceeds from calendar sales is donated to a charity of the curler’s choice. Birchard is supporting KidSport Manitoba as she was fortunate enough to compete in multiple sports growing up but understands that’s not necessarily the case for everyone.
“I think sport is just such a fantastic thing for children to get involved with. It teaches you so many life lessons in terms of perseverance, teamwork, you get to work towards a goal and really build lifelong friendships being part of a sports team,” Birchard said. “If I can help a few kids get involved in sports through my donation, that’ll make me really happy.”
Birchard was a young phenom skip as a two-time Canadian junior silver medallist and carried that success into her early years on the women’s tour making back-to-back playoff appearances in her first couple Manitoba provincial playdowns.
She arrived on most people’s radars though at the start of this year when Team Jones third Kaitlyn Lawes won the Canadian mixed doubles trials with John Morris to earn the right to wear the Maple Leaf at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. That meant Lawes would have to miss the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Birchard was asked to sub on the Manitoba squad.
Birchard filled in admirably alongside Jones, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen to capture the Canadian women’s championship, coincidentally defeating Einarson’s Wildcard team in the final. Although Lawes returned for the world championship (with an Olympic gold medal in hand), Birchard remained on board as their alternate and added more hardware to her haul.
“It was so phenomenal, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing,” Birchard said. “I definitely recognize that I got pretty lucky getting picked by them but obviously things really gelled once we got together. … I hope to do that again with my new team but I’ll never forget that experience. I learned so much. Jenn, Dawn, Kaitlyn, Jill and Wendy, their coach, were all just so amazing to me and made me feel so welcomed.”
The end of every Olympic cycle marks changes across the curling landscape with teams breaking up and starting over again for the next quadrennial. After Birchard’s own team parted ways, she reached out to Einarson about aligning this season.
“I’ve always known she’s a great shooter and watched her for years,” Birchard said. “Everybody knows she’s going to make the big shot when you need it, so that’s great to have in a skip. She’s also really smart out there in the house. She plays an aggressive game, which I like. I think we’re really similar personality-wise and same goes for Val and Briane, so we get along really well. I think it’s contributed to our good start this season.”
Einarson felt pretty excited knowing Birchard wanted to play with her.
“I was like, wow, knowing that her being a skip and a great skip in juniors and coming out of juniors she was a great skip and a positive person,” Einarson said. “For her to look to me to come play with was pretty awesome. I was just so surprised, like OK, yeah!”
The plan was for Birchard to play third with Briane Meilleur at second until Val Sweeting inquired with Einarson about joining them and wondered if the other two wouldn’t mind sliding down in the throwing order. Einarson wanted to run it by her teammates first and it was alright with Birchard.
“That just shows how strong of a player she is and a team player,” Einarson said. “She’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
Birchard said she put in a lot of work fitness-wise over the summer to prepare for her new role and Einarson believes she’s developed into an exceptional sweeper.
“Her pressure that she puts on that rock is really amazing and she does affect it,” Einarson said. “She’s become an all-around amazing front-end player.”
The Einarson ensemble silenced critics who doubted four skips could get along as they scored four consecutive title victories on tour winning the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard, Morris SunSpiel, Mother Club Fall Curling Classic and Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic. The Morris SunSpiel victory, in particular, was crucial as it guaranteed them a spot in the upcoming Manitoba provincial playdowns taking place in Einarson’s hometown of Gimli.
It’s a remarkable run to start their tenure considering none of them played together before, three of them transitioned to new positions and their skip has had to adjust to all of their tendencies such as Sweeting throwing left-handed. Birchard credits their pre-season get-together for establishing their connection that has been key to their success.
“We spent a lot of time over the summer hanging out and brought Val into Winnipeg and then we went up to Gimli, which is where Kerri lives,” Birchard said. “We played slo-pitch for a weekend and just hung out and partied with some of her friends up there. It’s the best way to bond, right? We really got to know each other that way and that really translated well on the ice.”
The 2019 Women of Curling calendar can be purchased online at womenofcurling.ca.